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Cofnod y Trafodion
The Record of Proceedings

Dydd Mawrth, 29 Tachwedd 2011
Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Cynnwys
Contents

Teyrngedau i Gary Speed
Obituary Tributes to Gary Speed

Cwestiynau i’r Prif Weinidog
Questions to the First Minister

Cwestiynau i Weinidog yr Amgylchedd a Datblygu Cynaliadwy
Questions to the Minister for Environment and Sustainable Development

Cwestiynau i’r Gweinidog Tai, Adfywio a Threftadaeth
Questions to the Minister for Housing, Regeneration and Heritage

Datganiad gan y Llywydd
Statement by the Presiding Officer

Datganiad a Chyhoeddiad Busnes
Business Statement and Announcement

Datganiad: Addysg Uwch
Statement: Higher Education

Datganiad: Cyflwyno Bil Is-ddeddfau Llywodraeth Leol (Cymru)
Statement: Introduction of the Local Government Byelaws (Wales) Bill

Diwygio’r PAC
CAP Reform

Yn y golofn chwith, cofnodwyd y trafodion yn yr iaith y llefarwyd hwy ynddi yn y Siambr. Yn ogystal, cynhwysir cyfieithiad Saesneg o gyfraniadau yn y Gymraeg.
In the left-hand column, the proceedings are recorded in the language in which they were spoken in the Chamber. In addition, an English translation of Welsh speeches is included.

Cyfarfu’r Cynulliad am 1.30 p.m. gyda’r Llywydd (Rosemary Butler) yn y Gadair.
The Assembly met at 1.30 p.m. with the Presiding Officer (Rosemary Butler) in the Chair.

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The Presiding Officer: Prynhawn da. Galwaf Gynulliad Cenedlaethol Cymru i drefn.

The Presiding Officer: Good afternoon. I call the National Assembly for Wales to order.

Teyrngedau i Gary Speed
Obituary Tributes to Gary Speed

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The Presiding Officer: It is my sad duty today to ask you to stand and observe a minute’s silence in memory of Gary Speed, who had great success and popularity as an international football player and more recently as the successful manager of the Welsh football team.

Safodd Aelodau’r Cynulliad am funud o dawelwch.
Assembly Members stood for a minute’s silence.

Cwestiynau i’r Prif Weinidog
Questions to the First Minister

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Awtistiaeth

Autism

1. Paul Davies: A wnaiff y Prif Weinidog ddatganiad am yr hyn y mae Llywodraeth Cymru yn ei wneud i gefnogi pobl ag awtistiaeth yng Nghymru. OAQ(4)0257(FM)

1. Paul Davies: Will the First Minister make a statement on what the Welsh Government is doing to support people with autism in Wales. OAQ(4)0257(FM)

Y Prif Weinidog (Carwyn Jones): Mae Cymru yn arwain y ffordd wrth wella bywyd pobl sydd ag anhwylderau ar sbectrwm awtistiaeth. Yr ydym wedi dyrannu dros £2 filiwn eleni i fwrw ymlaen â’n cynllun gweithredu strategol.

The First Minister (Carwyn Jones): Wales leads the way in improving the lives of people with autistic spectrum disorders. We have allocated over £2 million this year to take forward our strategic action plan.

Paul Davies: Yr wyf yn ddiolchgar i’r Prif Weinidog am yr ymateb hwnnw. Cefais yr anrhydedd o ymweld â changen sir Benfro o Gymdeithas Genedlaethol Awtistiaeth Cymru yn ddiweddar i gwrdd â rhai o’r gwirfoddolwyr sy’n gwneud gwaith ardderchog i godi ymwybyddiaeth ynglŷn â rhai o’r materion sy’n effeithio ar bobl ag awtistiaeth. Mae’n ymddangos, yn ôl y bobl y cyfarfum â nhw, fod problem gyda diagnosteg, ac yr oeddwn yn synnu o glywed ei bod, er enghraifft, wedi cymryd hyd at saith mlynedd i gael diagnosis i blentyn ag awtistiaeth. Yn wyneb hyn, a all y Prif Weinidog ddweud wrthym pa gefnogaeth y mae Llywodraeth Cymru yn ei rhoi i awdurdodau lleol, ac i fyrddau iechyd lleol, i ddelio â phroblemau diagnosis fel hyn?

Paul Davies: I thank the First Minister for that response. I had the honour of visiting the Pembrokeshire branch of the National Autistic Society Cymru recently to meet some of the volunteers who are doing excellent work to raise awareness of some of the issues that affect people with autism. According to those whom I met, it would appear that there is a problem as regards diagnostics, and I was surprised to hear that, in one instance, it had taken up to seven years to diagnose a child with autism. In the light of this, can the First Minister tell us what support is provided by the Welsh Government to local authorities, and to local health boards, to deal with such diagnosis issues?

Y Prif Weinidog: Mae’r Athro Sue Leekam, sef athro astudiaethau awtisitiaeth Prifysgol Caerdydd, a chyfarwyddwr Canolfan Ymchwil Awtistiaeth Cymru, wedi mesur gwasanaethau awtistiaeth i blant, yn ogystal â gwasanaethau diagnosteg, drwy Gymru, ac mae ei hadroddiad yn cael ei ystyried gan Weinidogion ar hyn o bryd. Ar ôl ystyried yr adroddiad hwnnw, bydd yn bosibl sicrhau bod unrhyw broblemau sy’n bodoli yn cael eu datrys.

The First Minister: Professor Sue Leekam, who holds the chair in autism studies at Cardiff University and is the director of the Wales Autism Research Centre, has assessed autism services for children, including diagnostics services, throughout Wales, and her report is currently being considered by Ministers. Once that report has been considered, it will be possible to ensure that any problems that do exist can be resolved.

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Rebecca Evans: First Minister, an adults with ASD task and finish group was set up last year to explore and make recommendations on things such as the criminal justice system, mental health, higher and further education and the impact of welfare reforms on people with autism. I declare an interest in that I chaired the sub-group on the welfare reforms. The report is due to be submitted to the Government in March of this year. Could you advise on the status of that report and when we can expect a Government response to it?

The First Minister: We are awaiting the final report of the reconvened adults with ASD task and finish group and that report is due to be finalised in the early part of next year.

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Cefnogi Busnesau

Supporting Businesses

2. Nick Ramsay: A wnaiff y Prif Weinidog roi’r wybodaeth ddiweddaraf i ni am ei gynlluniau ar gyfer cefnogi busnesau yng Nghymru. OAQ(4)0250(FM)

2. Nick Ramsay: Will the First Minister update us on his plans for supporting businesses in Wales. OAQ(4)0250(FM)

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The First Minister: We have made clear commitments to assist and support businesses in Wales and we will continue to listen and respond to the needs of businesses during these difficult economic times.

Nick Ramsay: I am sure the First Minister will join me in warmly welcoming the Chancellor of the Exchequer’s autumn statement this lunchtime, which includes within it a number of opportunities for supporting business. It also includes an additional £5 billion for capital projects in England. The Chancellor mentioned in his statement that there will be a Barnett consequential for Wales and he specifically mentioned the M4, which, as we know, is a vital artery for businesses in Wales. Can the First Minister tell us whether he has had any discussions to date surrounding possible improvements to the M4? How does your Government propose to make the most of this valuable opportunity for Wales, given to us by the coalition Government, to make life for businesses a lot easier in the tough times ahead?

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The First Minister: We are pleased that the M4 was mentioned, because I have raised the issue several times with the Prime Minister. I am glad it has been recognised. We wait to see the full scale of the consequential, but we expect it to be around the £300 million mark.

Vaughan Gething: First Minister, during what is undoubtedly a difficult economic period, it is vital that we continue to support our businesses in Wales. I welcome a number of our initiatives, including Business Advice Week. Can you confirm whether the Government is looking at simplifying the sources of business support and advice to make them easier to understand and access?

The First Minister: Yes, we are. It is important that businesses are able to access advice in as seamless a way as possible. I know that the Minister for Business, Enterprise, Technology and Science is keen to ensure that we have a system of business support that is as easy to access as possible.

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Alun Ffred Jones: Mae rhyddhad ardrethi busnes yn un ffordd o roi cymorth uniongyrchol i fusnesau llai, ac mae’r Llywodraeth wedi sefydlu ymchwiliad i hyn o dan gadeiryddiaeth yr Athro Brian Morgan. Os bydd yr Athro Morgan yn dod allan o blaid y cynllun presennol ac yn credu y dylai gael ei ehangu, a fydd y Llywodraeth yn ymateb yn gadarnhaol i’r argymhelliad hwnnw?

Alun Ffred Jones: Business rate relief is one way of giving direct asssitance to smaller businesses, and the Government has established an inquiry under the chairmanship of Professor Brian Morgan. If Professor Morgan comes out in favour of the current scheme and believes that it should be enhanced and extended, will the Government reply positively to that recommendation?

Y Prif Weinidog: Ynghylch yr hyn a ddywedodd y Canghellor yn gynharach am ardrethi busnes, yr ydym yn edrych i ehangu rhyddhad ardrethi busnes yng Nghymru yn ystod yr un amser ag y bydd help gydag ardrethi busnes ar gael yn Lloegr.

The First Minister: In terms of the Chancellor’s comments earlier on business rates, we are looking to ensure that business rate relief is extended in Wales at the same time as business rates assistance is available in England.

Cwestiynau Heb Rybudd gan Arweinwyr y Pleidiau

Questions Without Notice from the Party Leaders

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The Leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats (Kirsty Williams): First Minister, Wales spends more per head on the NHS than England, but we put up with longer waiting times, slower ambulance response times and lower standards of cancer screening. Do you agree with me that it is time we made our money work harder? Last week, I asked you to take action to address vacant posts among doctors; when will you bring forward those proposals?

The First Minister: We will bring forward the recruitment campaign in the early part of next year. That would be helped by a review of immigration policy. We are not having the doctors arriving in Wales that we used to, because immigration policy is too strict. Over the weekend, I was stunned to hear the UK Minister for immigration suggesting that it was a good thing that fewer student and work visas were being issued. I cannot understand how that can be seen as anything other than a drain on our economy.

Kirsty Williams: As I pointed out last week, those vacancies mean a reduced service for patients, but they also mean that the NHS is wasting money it does not need to. Therefore, we need some urgency in your bringing forward of these plans. The Welsh NHS spends, on average, £12 million a year on locum hospital doctors. I congratulate you on having the foresight to put aside party tribalism and adopt the Welsh Liberal Democrat proposals for a pupil premium and, in that spirit, I suggest another idea: is it not time to set up a locum bank for doctors to save the money currently being spent on hiring locums?

The First Minister: There has been an increase in staff working in the NHS since 2007, including 222 more consultants. There is a UK-wide shortage of doctors in some specialities, and we in Wales are not immune to that. Of course, we want to ensure that Wales has the appropriate skill mix of staff to meet the fluctuating demand, and we are working with the British Medical Association to show that Wales is an attractive place to live and work for doctors.

Kirsty Williams: I hope that you will look at the idea of creating a locum bank for doctors. I will give another example of smarter spending. It costs the NHS £35 for every GP appointment, but half that cost, £17, for every community pharmacy appointment. If patients with minor ailments were able to be seen by their pharmacist instead of their GP, up to £30 million could be saved each year. What will you do to encourage better use of community pharmacies?

The First Minister: Many community pharmacies are already doing this. I have certainly seen many that offer appointments and consulting rooms in a way that was not there two or three years ago. People will want to get advice from their pharmacists where they can, rather than making a doctor’s appointment. Of course, one of the areas that we continue to be vigilant about is the issue of people not turning up to GP appointments. That still causes problems, not just financially, but in terms of a waste of doctors’ time.

The Leader of the Opposition (Andrew R.T. Davies): Last week, First Minister, I raised with you the issue of waiting times in our local health boards’ accident and emergency departments. You said at that point that you did not recognise the figures that I put to you, but those were the figures that were taken from the Statistics Wales website, which is your Government’s website. Since last week, we have also had the most up-to-date figures on accident and emergency waiting times, which can be compared with the Government’s target of four hours or less. Those figures show that only 89 per cent of people are seen within this time, against a Government target of 95 per cent for accident and emergency departments. This week, can you please answer the question regarding the action that your Government is taking to improve the experience for clinicians and for the patients who attend accident and emergency departments?

The First Minister: We will continue to encourage people to use out-of-hours GP services, because we know that many people who go to accident and emergency departments do not need to do so. We will also continue to be vigilant to ensure that the natural spike in attendance at accident and emergency departments at this time of year is reduced.

Andrew R.T. Davies: First Minister, we are looking at the figures for September and October, so the winter pressures have not come into play in relation to waiting times at accident and emergency departments at the moment. However, I would like to move on to discuss procurement costs, which I asked you about some two weeks ago. I highlighted to you the cost to businesses of bidding for Assembly Government contracts, which is in the region of £20 million. Once again, this is a Government figure that was put forward by the efficiency and innovation board procurement task force in February 2011. Therefore, this was your task force, which was set up by your Government. What action is your Government taking to make it easier for local firms to bid for Welsh Government contracts?

The First Minister: We have had a number of procurement initiatives over the years. This is a matter that was raised at the last meeting of the council for economic renewal some two weeks ago. It is a matter that we are taking into consideration to improve the procurement process for local companies.

Andrew R.T. Davies: I am sure that businesses will breathe a deep sigh of relief when they hear what action is being taken by your Government. However, I have given you two examples where, in the last couple of weeks, you have stated that you do not recognise the figures that I have put to you. Over the summer term, your Members and your Government called for £42 billion of protected spending from Westminster on a host of policy areas. Do you not think that it is now time for your Government to start acting like a Government and take the lead so that businesses can actively engage with the Welsh Government, and so that patients and clinicians within the health service can get the standard of treatment that is set out in the targets of your Government?

The First Minister: I note that the UK Government has taken up our idea on the jobs fund and it has announced today that it wishes to build on our idea of Flying Start. We are quite happy for the UK Government to take our ideas where we have good ideas. However, let me put a figure to the leader of the opposition that he refuses constantly to recognise, namely the fact that his party’s former leader said that he wished to cut education spending in Wales by 20 per cent. That was announced live on Wales Today. He is in blatant denial. I know that it is a bitter pill for him to swallow, but the reality is that he will not recognise—[Interruption.] There is no point shouting, because he just plays up to his reputation when he shouts of not being able to debate properly. However, the reality is that that was the figure—[Interruption.]

The Presiding Officer: Order.

The First Minister: That was the figure that his leader announced in the run-up to the last election. He refuses to recognise that figure, despite the fact that it was announced live on television, and he will not distance himself from that figure. We know, for example, that when it comes to student fees, the reason why student fees and the money that we are contributing to student fees would not be affordable in Wales if he was in government is because of the 20 per cent cuts that he wants to impose.

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Arweinydd Plaid Cymru (Ieuan Wyn Jones): Mae’r Sefydliad ar gyfer Cydweithrediad a Datblygiad Economaidd yn darogan y bydd economi’r Deyrnas Gyfunol mewn dirwasgiad yn chwarter cyntaf y flwyddyn nesaf. Mae’n dweud na fydd yr economi yn tyfu mwy na 0.5 y cant drwy gydol y flwyddyn nesaf. Y tebygrwydd yw, gyda’r math hwnnw o ffigurau, y bydd economi Cymru mewn dirwasgiad am gyfnod tipyn yn hwy. Mae’r sefydliad hefyd yn darogan y gallai diweithdra yng Nghymru godi i 10 y cant erbyn 2013. Yr wyf wedi clywed heddiw eich bod wedi dweud bod angen i Lywodraeth y Deyrnas Gyfunol newid cwrs, ac yr wyf yn cytuno â chi. Fodd bynnag, a ydych chi’n fodlon newid cwrs? Os ydych chi, ym mha ffordd?

The Leader of Plaid Cymru (Ieuan Wyn Jones): The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development is predicting that the United Kingdom economy will be in recession in the first quarter of next year. It states that the economy will not grow more than 0.5 per cent throughout next year. The likelihood, with that kind of figure, is that the Welsh economy will be in recession for a far longer period. The OECD also predicts that unemployment in Wales could rise to 10 per cent by 2013. I have heard today that you are saying that the UK Government needs to change course, and I agree with you. However, are you willing to change course? If so, how?

Y Prif Weinidog: Yr unig syniad y mae Plaid Cymru wedi dod ag ef i’r Cynulliad ac i bobl Cymru yw darparu help gydag ardrethi busnes, a dim byd arall. Ni chafodd unrhyw beth arall ei drafod dros yr wythnosau diwethaf. Dyna oedd y pecyn cyfyng a roddwyd gerbron pobl Cymru gan Blaid Cymru. Y realiti yw inni wneud datganiad ddoe o £38.9 miliwn i helpu economi Cymru, a bydd datganiad arall ar ôl i ni gysylltu â’r Rhyddfrydwyr er mwyn sicrhau ym mha ffordd y byddwn yn gwario’r arian y byddwn yn ei gael o achos datganiad y Canghellor heddiw.

The First Minister: The only idea that Plaid Cymru has brought forward to the Assembly and the people of Wales is assistance with business rates, and nothing else. No other option was discussed in the past few weeks. That was the limited package put before the people of Wales by Plaid Cymru. The reality is that we made a statement yesterday about £38.9 million to help the Welsh economy, and another statement will be made after we have discussed with the Liberals how we will spend the money that will come as a result of the Chancellor’s statement today.

Ieuan Wyn Jones: Nid Plaid Cymru sydd mewn Llywodraeth ar hyn o bryd—chi sydd mewn Llywodraeth, ac felly mae’n rhaid i chi ateb y cwestiynau o safbwynt yr hyn y mae eich Llywodraeth yn ei wneud. Nid yw’n wir dweud mai’r unig beth yr oeddem wedi gofyn amdano yw ardrethi busnes. Yr oeddem wedi gofyn am arian cyfalaf i helpu’r economi, arian ar gyfer y parthau buddsoddi yng Nghymru, arian i helpu diwydiant, ac arian i’w roi ar gyfer sgiliau i bobl ifanc—mae un o bob pedwar o bobl ifanc allan o waith. Y realiti yw, Brif Weinidog, ei bod yn ddigon hawdd i chi ofyn i Lywodraeth Llundain newid cwrs, ond nid ydych yn fodlon newid cwrs o gwbl.

Ieuan Wyn Jones: Plaid Cymru is not in Government at present—you are in Government, so you have to answer questions in terms of what your Government is doing. It is not true to say that all we had requested was on business rates. We had asked for capital funds to assist the economy, funds for the enterprise zones in Wales, funds to assist industry, and funds for the skills of young people—one in four of whom is out of work. The reality, First Minister, is that it is easy enough for you to ask the London Government to change course, but that you are not willing to change course at all.

Mae gennyf gwestiwn penodol i chi ar ddatganiad George Osborne heddiw. Mae’n dweud—ac yr ydym wedi clywed yr ateb yr ydych wedi ei roi i Nick Ramsay—fod £5 biliwn wedi cael ei gyhoeddi mewn arian cyfalaf. Yr ydych yn dweud mai eich siâr chi o hwnnw yw £300 miliwn. Wrth gwrs, yr ydym i gyd yn gwybod, os mai’r M4 yw’r cynllun, fod hwnnw’n costio £1 biliwn. O ble y mae’r £700 miliwn arall yn dod?

I have a specific question on George Osborne’s statement today. He says—and we heard the reply that you gave to Nick Ramsay—that £5 billion has been announced in capital spending. You say that your share of that is £300 million. Of course, we all know that if the plan is to work on the M4, the cost will be £1 billion. Where is the other £700 million coming from?

Y Prif Weinidog: Dyna’r arian yr ydym yn erfyn ei gael, wrth gwrs. Clywais George Osborne yn dweud ei fod am weithio gyda ni fel Llywodraeth er mwyn delifro ar yr M4. Fel y dywedais, nid yw’r hyn a ddywedodd arweinydd Plaid Cymru yn iawn. Yr unig beth a chanddo ffigurau y daeth arweinydd Plaid Cymru i siarad â ni amdano oedd help gydag ardrethi busnes. Yr wyf yn ddigon hapus i wneud yr e-byst yn gyhoeddus: a wnewch yr un peth?

The First Minister: That is the money that we expect to receive, of course. I heard George Osborne saying that he wanted to work with us as a Government in order to deliver on the M4. As I said, what the leader of Plaid Cymru says is not correct. The only thing with figures attached that the leader of Plaid Cymru brought to us was assistance with business rates. I am quite happy to make the e-mails public: will you do the same?

Ieuan Wyn Jones: Wrth gwrs yr wyf yn hapus iawn i wneud popeth yr ydym wedi’i wneud yn gyhoeddus, ond chwarae plant yw hyn, Brif Weinidog. Mae economi Cymru’n gwaedu, gydag un o bob pedwar o bobl ifanc Cymru allan o waith, a’ch ymateb chi yn ei gyfanrwydd yw cynnig rhyddhau e-bost gan arweinydd Plaid Cymru. Gadewch i ni aros mewn realiti—mae economi Cymru ar ei chefn ac yr ydych wedi dweud heddiw nad ydych yn fodlon gwneud dim am hynny. Beth mae hynny’n ei ddweud am flaenoriaethau Llafur yng Nghymru? Brif Weinidog, atebwch y cwestiwn.

Ieuan Wyn Jones: Of course, I am very happy to make everything that we have done public, but this is child’s play, First Minister. The Welsh economy is haemorrhaging, with one in four young people in Wales out of work, and your only response is to release an e-mail from the leader of Plaid Cymru. Let us take a reality check—the Welsh economy is on its knees and you have said today that you are not willing to do anything about that. What does that say about the priorities of Labour in Wales? First Minister, answer the question.

Y Prif Weinidog: Dyna beth yw chwarae plant bach. Y realiti yw inni wneud datganiad ddoe a bydd datganiad arall ynglŷn â’r £300 miliwn. Cafwyd datganiad yr wythnos cyn hynny ynglŷn â £90 miliwn o arian cyfalaf. Beth sydd gan Blaid Cymru i’w gynnig? Dim. Nid oes ganddi ond un syniad, a hwnnw wedi dod o’r Alban. Felly, nid syniad Plaid Cymru oedd hwnnw. Mae’n bwysig dros ben bod gennym gytundeb ar y gyllideb, ond mae’r un mor bwysig bod gan bleidiau syniadau i symud Cymru ymlaen, yn lle bod eu tanc o syniadau’n wag.

The First Minister: That is child’s play. The reality is that we made a statement yesterday and that another statement will be made about the £300 million. There was a statement the week before that on £90 million in capital funding. What does Plaid Cymru have to offer? Nothing. It has only one idea, which comes from Scotland. Therefore, it was not Plaid Cymru’s idea. It is vital that we have agreement on the budget, but it is just as important that parties have ideas in order to move Wales forward, rather than have a tank that is empty of ideas.

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Gwasanaeth Iechyd

Health Service

3. Elin Jones: Pa drafodaethau y mae’r Prif Weinidog wedi’u cael gyda’r Gweinidog Iechyd a Gwasanaethau Cymdeithasol am ddyfodol y Gwasanaeth Iechyd. OAQ(4)0253(FM)

3. Elin Jones: What discussions has the Minister had with the Minister for Health and Social Services on the future of the Health Service. OAQ(4)0253(FM)

Y Prif Weinidog: Yr wyf yn trafod blaenoriaethau’r gwasanaeth iechyd yng Nghymru â’r Gweinidog Iechyd a Gwasanaethau Cymdeithasol yn rheolaidd.

The First Minister: I regularly discuss the future priorities of the health service in Wales with the Minister for Health and Social Services.

Elin Jones: Mae Bwrdd Iechyd Lleol Hywel Dda, fel byrddau iechyd eraill, wedi bod yn dweud yn ddiweddar ei fod yn awyddus i gynnal trafodaethau â phobl yn lleol am ei gynlluniau ar gyfer adolygu’r gwasanaethau clinigol. Ddydd Iau diwethaf, cyhoeddodd bwrdd iechyd Hywel Dda ddatganiad arall yn dweud ei fod am ymgynghori â phobl yn Nyfed, ond, ar yr un diwrnod yn union, gwrthododd bwrdd iechyd Hywel Dda anfon cynrychiolydd i gyfarfod cyhoeddus yn Nhregaron i drafod torri 40 y cant o’r gwelyau yn yr ysbyty. A ydych yn cytuno bod yn rhaid i fyrddau iechyd gynnal a throi lan i gyfarfodydd cyhoeddus yng Nghymru os ydynt am gael unrhyw obaith o ennill hyder y cyhoedd o ran newidiadau i wasanaethau iechyd?

Elin Jones: The Hywel Dda Local Health Board, like other health boards, has said recently that it is eager to hold discussions with local people about its plans for reviewing clinical services. Last Thursday, the Hywel Dda health board made another statement about wanting to consult people in Dyfed, but, on the very same day, the health board refused to send a representative to a public meeting to discuss the 40 per cent reduction in the number of beds in the local hospital. Do you agree that health boards must hold and turn up at public meetings in Wales if they are to have any hope of engendering the support of the public for changes to health services?

Y Prif Weinidog: Mae hynny’n bwysig dros ben er mwyn sicrhau bod gan bobl y cyfle i wrando ar yr hyn sy’n cael ei ddodi o’u blaenau a’r cyfle i fynegi barn. Felly, mae’n bwysig bod cyfarfodydd yn cael eu trefnu ac mae’n bwysig bod y swyddogion perthnasol yn y cyfarfodydd hynny.

The First Minister: That is vitally important if people are to have the opportunity to listen to what is put before them and to express an opinion. Therefore, it is important that meetings are organised and that the relevant officials are present at those meetings.

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Russell George: First Minister, my constituents and I are very concerned about the potential downgrading and centralisation of services away from Bronglais. You will be aware that residents in Powys rely very heavily on Bronglais, especially those in the west of the county. We could see the local health board completely removing emergency operations, which would force people to travel unreasonable amounts of time for essential care. The Minister for health said on 1 November:

'I don’t want to hear anything about downgrading. What we want to see is improved services right across Wales.’

Do you stand by that statement, First Minister?

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The First Minister: No-one is suggesting the downgrading of any district general hospital. If you look at Bronglais Hospital, you will see that it is almost surrounded by building cranes. That is because of the investment that has been put into the hospital. Is that the sign of a hospital being downgraded?

 

Peter Black: First Minister, given the proposed reconfiguration of the health service as put forward by the Minister and local health boards, it is more important than ever to achieve the necessary joint working between health and social services, not just to drive up efficiencies, but also to ensure that patients and people who are being treated in their own homes have the best possible care in the best possible environment. What specific plans do you have to drive that agenda forward?

The First Minister: We have taken forward a number of initiatives to ensure that there is a more seamless transfer of people between hospitals and their homes. There will be scope in the social services Bill to see how that process might be improved.

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Hyrwyddo Cymru ym Marchnad Deithio’r Byd

Promoting Wales in the World Travel Market

4. Mark Isherwood: Pa gamau y mae Llywodraeth Cymru yn eu cymryd i hyrwyddo Cymru ym Marchnad Deithio’r Byd. OAQ(4)0256(FM)

4. Mark Isherwood: What actions is the Welsh Government taking to promote Wales in the World Travel Market. OAQ(4)0256(FM)

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The First Minister: Visit Wales does not generally attend specific travel and tourism trade events unless there are clear returns for Wales against the relatively high costs incurred in attending and having a stand at these events. There is now a greater focus on direct customer relation management.

Mark Isherwood: As you indicated, the World Travel Market is an annual five-day event held in London. It is the leading global event for the travel industry, providing exhibitors with a competitive advantage for their business. As you know, the tourist industry is critical to Wales as it provides some 6 per cent of our gross domestic product and supports about 172,000 jobs. Therefore, why was Visit Wales, the Welsh Government’s tourism arm, not present when the exhibitors that were present included Visit England, Visit Scotland, Visit Birmingham, Visit Devon, Visit Guernsey, Visit East Yorkshire, Visit Kent, Visit Cornwall, as well as representatives from the Isle of Man, the Channel Islands, various Irish tourist attractions and a wide range of other UK-based attractions? A number of people from Wales who visited this event have contacted me to ask why their own visit body was not promoting Wales alongside these other bodies.   

The First Minister: Visit Wales does attend a number of events to promote Wales, but, as I say, those events are examined according to what their return might be. It might be true that there are stands from other exhibitors there, but what do they actually get out of it? We want to make sure that when we spend money on promoting Wales as a tourist destination that that money is spent most effectively.

Bethan Jenkins: First Minister, I recently met the South Wales Chamber of Commerce which said that air travel booking companies from England are being used to book business trips for Welsh firms and higher education institutions, which means that they think of booking travel for those people from Bristol or London before Cardiff. Is there anything that you can do to stop this particular trend so that Cardiff Airport is seen as central to the economic policy of Wales?

The First Minister: I do not think that I can do very much to tell businesses how they should book their travel, but you raise an important point about Cardiff Airport. I share the concern that has been expressed in this Chamber about the fortunes of Cardiff Airport, and much work is being done to ensure that the airport moves forward in future and gains more custom.

Eluned Parrott: The UK Government recently announced £3 million of funding for a marketing campaign to boost tourism in relation to the Olympic and Paralympic games next year. Obviously, as Cardiff is an Olympic venue next year, this is aimed as a UK-wide marketing campaign. Will you confirm whether or not your officials have been involved in discussions on how to spend and plan for this funding?

The First Minister: Yes, they have.

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Gwella Iechyd y Genedl

Improving the Health of the Nation

5. Simon Thomas: Pa gamau y mae’r Prif Weinidog yn eu cymryd i wella iechyd y genedl. OAQ(4)0248(FM)

5. Simon Thomas: What steps is the First Minister taking to improve the health of the nation. OAQ(4)0248(FM)

Y Prif Weinidog: Mae ein gweledigaeth pum mlynedd ar gyfer y gwasanaeth iechyd yng Nghymru, 'Law yn Llaw at Iechyd’, yn tanlinellu pwysigrwydd gwella iechyd pawb yng Nghymru.

The First Minister: Our five-year vision for the national health service in Wales, 'Together for Health’, highlights the importance of improving the health of everyone in Wales.

Simon Thomas: Bu cynnydd o 70 y cant yn nifer yr achosion o gancr yr afu yng Nghymru, ac mae prif weithredwr y British Liver Trust wedi disgrifio’r polisi presennol ar alcohol fel jôc. Yr oedd polisi gan y Llywodraeth flaenorol i ddatganoli trwyddedu alcohol a chyflwyno pris isaf ar gyfer alcohol yng Nghymru. A yw hynny’n bolisi gennych chi o hyd, a pha bryd yr ydych yn debyg o’i weithredu?

Simon Thomas: There has been a 70 per cent increase in the incidence of liver cancer in Wales, and the chief executive of the British Liver Trust has described the current policy on alcohol as a joke. The previous Government had a policy to devolve alcohol licencing and to introduce a minimum price for alcohol in Wales. Is that your policy now, and when are you likely to implement it?

Y Prif Weinidog: Ydyw. O ran trwyddedu alcohol, mae’n rhywbeth perthnasol iawn i’w gael yn y Cynulliad. Y rheswm hanesyddol pam na chafodd ei ddatganoli yw oherwydd ei fod yn rhan o waith y Swyddfa Gartref, ac nid am unrhyw reswm arall. O ran prisio alcohol, y broblem fawr—a bydd hon yn broblem yn yr Alban—yw os oes gennych brisiau gwahanol ar bob ochr i’r ffin, bydd pobl yn croesi’r ffin ac yn prynu alcohol ar yr ochr arall. Bydd hon yn broblem yn yr Alban os byddant yn mynd ymlaen gyda’r polisi sydd ganddynt ynglŷn â phrisio alcohol. Byddai’n llawer mwy effeithiol pe bai polisi’n cael ei fabwysiadu gan Loegr, yr Alban a Chymru, er mwyn sicrhau nad oes gwahaniaeth ym mhris alcohol rhwng y tair gwlad, gan gofio, wrth gwrs, fod angen sicrhau bod y pris hwnnw’n mynd lan.

The First Minister: Yes, it is. In terms of alcohol licensing, that would be a very relevant responsibility in the Assembly. Historically, the reason why it was not devolved was because it is part of the Home Office’s remit. There is no other reason. As regards alcohol pricing, the major problem—and this will be a problem in Scotland—is that if you have different prices either side of the border, people will just cross the border to buy alcohol on the other side. This will be a problem in Scotland if they proceed with their policy on alcohol pricing. It would be far more effective if the same policy were to be adopted in England, Scotland and Wales, as this would ensure that there is no difference in the price of alcohol between the three nations, bearing in mind, of course, that we have to ensure that that price is increased.

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Jenny Rathbone: While I am aware that the recent E. coli-related deaths of people in Singleton Hospital were not related to food hygiene, in the minds of ordinary people it raises the issue of E. coli poisoning when they eat out. What plans does the First Minister have to bring forward the scores on the doors legislation, which would reassure people?

The First Minister: We intend to consult on the introduction of the food hygiene rating Bill next month. On top of that, I have asked the Food Standards Agency to review food law enforcement by local authorities in Wales, and I expect the addendum to the report to be delivered to me shortly.

Mohammad Asghar: First Minister, a third of Welsh children are overweight or obese, which is dreadful news. The British Medical Journal has said that rising levels of obesity could bankrupt the NHS. Will your Government pledge to introduce an annual public health campaign to specifically tackle these serious issues? First Minister, are you confident that levels of childhood obesity in Wales will fall under your administration during the fourth Assembly?

The First Minister: When it comes to children, we have healthy free breakfasts in schools and we have seen the expansion of community food co-operatives, which make it easier for people to eat healthily and get their five a day of fruit and vegetables. When it comes to exercise, we have invested in free swimming at local authority swimming pools at weekends and during school holidays for those under 16. We continue to ensure that while children are in school, at least, they are able to eat healthily to make sure that obesity declines in years to come.

William Powell: First Minister, despite the level of building activity currently under way at Bronglais Hospital, a series of services have been withdrawn from there over the past few years. The most recent, which caused considerable concern back in September, was the withdrawal of the maxillofacial clinic, which had been operating there since the 1980s and had been routinely recognising early signs of oral cancer cases. Do you agree that it is important that, in considering its forward plan, the Hywel Dda Local Health Board should take account of patients in the south Gwynedd and western Powys areas, as well as listening to local residents in the Ceredigion area, as the Member for Ceredigion said?

 

The First Minister: Bronglais Hospital covers a large area, and I am sure that the LHB will be considering the services that need to be provided there. There has often been an issue in hospitals further west for many years where a consultant may retire and it becomes exceptionally difficult to recruit someone in that consultant’s place, which is why we are launching the campaign to attract more doctors into Wales to overcome this historic problem of medical practitioners being reluctant to cross the Loughor, if I can put it that way; we need to deal with that.

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Remploy

Remploy

6. Mick Antoniw: A wnaiff y Prif Weinidog amlinellu’r cymorth sydd ar gael gan Lywodraeth Cymru i helpu ffatrïoedd Remploy yng Nghymru i ennill contractau yn y dyfodol. OAQ(4)0251(FM)

6. Mick Antoniw: Will the First Minister outline the assistance available from the Welsh Government to help Welsh Remploy factories secure future contracts. OAQ(4)0251(FM)

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The First Minister: Our aim is to increase the interaction between the public sector and supported businesses based in Wales. In addition to targeted business support, a broader strategy is being developed for the whole of the supported business sector in Wales, including Remploy, to help win more business.

Mick Antoniw: First Minister, I recently had the pleasure of visiting the Porth Remploy factory, which although not in my constituency, has quite a large number of my constituents working there. It is a specialist factory with facilities for recycling computers and for electronic waste cleansing data, and so on. I am pleased that Rhondda Cynon Taf County Borough Council has started meeting with them with a view to procuring those local services from the local council. Unfortunately, there do not appear to be any meetings between these services and any other local authorities. Will you use your office to encourage other local authorities in Wales to follow the example of Rhondda Cynon Taf in that way?

The First Minister: Yes, I would. It is right that local authorities should set an example and look to procure from companies such as Remploy in order to help those people who are in supported employment.

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2.00 p.m.

Mark Isherwood: What action is the Welsh Government taking, or can it take, to meet the suggestion in the Sayce review into employment services for disabled people that Remploy employees should be offered expert entrepreneurial and business support to develop their businesses, where possible?

The First Minister: That is code for 'We want to shut the Remploy factories down’. Offering business support to employees means 'We’re going to sack you; set up your own businesses’. We would rather see the Remploy factories stay open.

Leanne Wood: First Minister, I too recently visited the Remploy factory in Porth, and was told quite clearly that, if the factory secured the public procurement contract with Rhondda Cynon Taf County Borough Council, the business would be viable. In reality, public sector sales for Remploy in Wales have reduced by two thirds in the last three years. Can you update us on what discussions you have undertaken recently to secure the future of Remploy and, specifically, what you can do to ensure that Remploy has access to public contracts to secure its long-term viability?

The First Minister: I refer you to the point that I made earlier to the Member for Pontypridd. In addition, I raised the issue with the Secretary of State in a meeting with her and asked her to consider the mechanics of the financing of Remploy being devolved. I have not had a response yet.

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Cyflog Byw

Living Wage

7. Mike Hedges: A wnaiff y Prif Weinidog amlinellu pa gamau y mae Llywodraeth Cymru yn eu cymryd i gyflwyno cyflog byw yng Nghymru. OAQ(4)0258(FM)

7. Mike Hedges: Will the First Minister outline what action the Welsh Government is taking to introduce a living wage in Wales. OAQ(4)0258(FM)

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The First Minister: We have commissioned research into the impact of a living wage on poverty levels and economic performance in Wales. That research is due to be made available early next year.

Mike Hedges: I thank the First Minister for that reply. As he is well aware, a living wage not only helps the people receiving it, but helps the economy, because more money is going into the economy. It also helps companies, because they have a better-motivated workforce. What can the Welsh Government do to enthuse employers to move towards a living wage?

The First Minister: The living wage campaign seeks to encourage employers to voluntarily move towards paying the wage over time. We are now considering, as part of our work on corporate social responsibility, based on the findings of the report when they are available, how the living wage can be applied effectively in Wales.

Antoinette Sandbach: Can the First Minister confirm what discussions he and his Cabinet colleagues have had with representatives of the Low Pay Commission to discuss the findings of its most recent report, in particular with respect to the effect that youth rates have had on the employment prospects of 16 to 17-year-olds since the downturn and the corresponding rise in unpaid internships—an option that is not affordable for every young person? Can he confirm what calculations or modelling his Government has carried out on the effect of introducing either a single minimum wage or a living wage on 16 to 17-year-olds in the labour market?

The First Minister: I know that the party opposite is still opposed to the minimum wage and would get rid of it if it could. I noticed today, for example, that among the things that it wants to do is to get rid of the Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations 2006, which will affect many people as they see a change of ownership in their place of employment. It also wants to look for regional pay in the public sector—that is code for cutting the pay of people in Wales. We all know that. Therefore, I take no lessons from the party opposite. We know that if it had its way, it would squeeze people as hard as possible, while leaving the richest people untouched.

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Rhodri Glyn Thomas: Brif Weinidog, ategaf yr hyn yr ydych wedi ei ddweud am gyflog rhanbarthol a datganiad George Osborne ryw awr yn ôl ar y mater hwn. Bydd hyn yn arwain at gyflogau is yn y sector cyhoeddus yng Nghymru a bydd hynny’n golygu bod effaith costau byw a’r cynnydd ynddynt gymaint â hynny yn fwy yng Nghymru. Fel y Llywodraeth a ddywedodd wrth bobl Cymru yn yr etholiad diwethaf eich bod yn mynd i’w hamddiffyn rhag y toriadau a fyddai’n dod oddi wrth y glymblaid yn San Steffan, beth yr ydych yn mynd i’w wneud i sicrhau nad yw’r bobl yr effeithir arnynt gan gyflog rhanbarthol yn dioddef mwy yng Nghymru na phobl mewn rhannau eraill o’r Deyrnas Unedig?

Rhodri Glyn Thomas: First Minister, I endorse what you have said about regional pay and George Osborne’s statement on it about an hour ago. This will lead to lower wages in the public sector in Wales, meaning that the impact of living costs and the increase in those living costs will be so much greater in Wales. As the Government that told the people of Wales in the last election that it would protect them from the cuts that would come from the Westminster coalition, what are you going to do to ensure that the people who will be affected by regional pay will not suffer more in Wales than those in other parts of the United Kingdom?

Y Prif Weinidog: Mae’n bwysig iawn ein bod wedi cael mwy o arian, arian cyfalaf yn arbennig, ond yr ofn yw y bydd pobl yn talu amdano mewn rhyw ffordd neu’i gilydd. Mae hynny’n golygu mai doctoriaid, nyrsys a gweithwyr cymdeithasol a fydd yn gweld toriadau yn eu cyflog er mwyn talu am yr hyn yr ydym wedi ei weld heddiw. Nid y nhw ddylai dalu, wrth gwrs. Fel Llywodraeth, byddwn yn ymladd y newidiadau hyn ac yn ystyried a yw’n bosibl sicrhau mai ni fel Llywodraeth Cymru a fydd yn rheoli cyflogau yng Nghymru. Bydd rhaid inni ystyried hynny os bydd Llywodraeth y Deyrnas Unedig yn symud ymlaen â’r hyn a ddywedodd heddiw.

The First Minister: It is very important that we have had more money, particularly capital money, but the fear is that people will have to pay for it in one way or another. That will mean that doctors, nurses and social workers will see a cut in their income in order to pay for what we have seen today. They are not the ones who should be paying, of course. As a Government, we will fight against these changes and consider whether it is possible to ensure that we, as the Welsh Government, control pay in Wales. That is something that we will have to consider if the UK Government proceeds with what it said today.

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Julie James: First Minister, will you join me in congratulating Swansea Labour students, and Labour students across Wales, who are lobbying their universities to pay all their staff at least a living wage?

The First Minister: Of course. As I said earlier on, we are keen to ensure that all employers adopt the living wage voluntarily. Campaigns aimed at doing that are to be welcomed.

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Byrddau Iechyd ac Awdurdodau Lleol

Health Boards and Local Authorities

8. Keith Davies: A wnaiff y Prif Weinidog ddatganiad am sut y mae Llywodraeth Cymru yn sicrhau bod byrddau iechyd ac awdurdodau lleol yn gweithio’n agosach hefo’i gilydd. OAQ(4)0249(FM)

8. Keith Davies: Will the First Minister make a statement on how the Welsh Government is ensuring that health boards and local authorities are working closer together. OAQ(4)0249(FM)

Y Prif Weinidog: Ceir llawer o enghreifftiau da o fentrau cydweithredol rhwng awdurdodau lleol a byrddau iechyd lleol ledled Cymru. Mae hynny’n rhywbeth yr ydym am ei hybu.

The First Minister: There are many good examples of collaborative initiatives between local authorities and local health boards across Wales. That is something that we would like to encourage.

Keith Davies: Yn ddiweddar, crëwyd wardiau rhith yn sir Gâr, lle cafwyd systemau a staff o sawl gwasanaeth gwahanol, ond nid yr adeilad. Effaith hyn yw gostyngiad yn nifer y derbyniadau i’r ysbyty, sy’n beth da mewn sefyllfaoedd priodol. A wnaiff y Prif Weinidog ymuno â mi i groesawu hyn?

Keith Davies: Recently, virtual wards have been created in Carmarthenshire, including systems and staff from a number of different organisations but not the buildings. This has resulted in a reduction in hospital admissions, which is good in appropriate circumstances. Will the First Minister join me in welcoming this?

Y Prif Weinidog: Wrth gwrs. Mae’r wardiau hyn wedi dangos eu bod yn dda i bobl sydd â phroblemau iechyd hirdymor. Yr ydym hefyd wedi gweld hyn mewn rhannau eraill o’r Deyrnas Unedig.

The First Minister: Of course. These wards have proven their value for those with long-term medical conditions. We have also seen this in other parts of the UK.

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William Graham: The First Minister will know that a good example of such co-operation is the Gwent frailty project. The key to effective and efficient service delivery is the sharing of best practice, so that it becomes common practice. Will the First Minister suggest to the Minister for Health and Social Services how this could be shared across Wales?

The First Minister: I have visited the Gwent frailty project and it is an excellent example of what is being done between the local health board, the five local authorities and the voluntary sector. It is a model that we believe can be adopted by local authorities and local bodies across Wales.

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Simon Thomas: Yfory, bydd nyrsys a gweithwyr gofal ymhlith y rhai a fydd yn mynd ar streic er mwyn amddiffyn eu pensiynau. Pa drafodaethau yr ydych wedi eu cael gyda byrddau iechyd ac awdurdodau lleol i sicrhau eu bod yn gweithio gyda’i gilydd yfory i sicrhau bod y claf yn cael ei amddiffyn yn ystod y streic?

Simon Thomas: Tomorrow, nurses and care workers will be among those striking to defend their pensions. What discussions have you had with health boards and local authorities to make sure that they work together tomorrow to ensure that the patient is safeguarded during the strike?

Y Prif Weinidog: Mae cytundeb rhwng yr undebau a’r byrddau iechyd, fel yr wyf yn deall, a fydd yn sicrhau bod pobl sydd angen triniaeth frys yn cael hynny.

The First Minister: There is agreement between unions and the health boards, as I understand it, to ensure that people in need of urgent treatment are able to access it.

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Blaenoriaethau

Priorities

9. Mohammad Asghar: A wnaiff y Prif Weinidog ddatganiad yn amlinellu prif flaenoriaethau Llywodraeth Cymru ar gyfer rhanbarth Dwyrain De Cymru. OAQ(4)0252(FM)

9. Mohammad Asghar: Will the First Minister make a statement outlining the Welsh Government’s key priorities for the South Wales East region. OAQ(4)0252(FM)

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The First Minister: They are to be found in the programme for government.

Mohammad Asghar: Thank you, First Minister, for that short reply. The Severn bridge toll is to increase to £6 next January, which could cost motorists more than £75 more next year. Why did the Welsh Government say in July 2010 that an independent study into the impact of tolls would be commissioned externally and published in the spring of 2011? Considering that, 16 months on, no report has been published and the Welsh Government has only recently appointed a consortium led by Arup, the construction company, to undertake the study, can you explain to my constituents why there has been such a long delay on this matter?

The First Minister: Did the Member say 'toll’?

Mohammad Asghar: Yes, the Severn bridge toll.

The First Minister: That is a matter for the Department for Transport and Severn River Crossings plc. It is disappointing that, in the case of something that is not devolved, even though the Humber bridge toll has been halved, as was announced in the Chancellor’s statement today, no such courtesy was extended to the Severn bridge. We do not control it; the Department for Transport does. Why does Wales not get the same recognition as was afforded the Humber bridge?

Lynne Neagle: First Minister, in my 12 years as an Assembly Member, I have worked closely with Welsh Women’s Aid on a number of harrowing cases of domestic violence in Torfaen. Last week, one of Plaid Cymru’s most senior politicians, Councillor Neil McEvoy, accused Welsh Women’s Aid of supporting member groups that help to emotionally abuse children. Like many others, I found this incredibly offensive and distasteful, especially as these remarks were made on White Ribbon Day. I am sure that all parties in the Chamber, including Plaid Cymru, would wish to distance themselves from Councillor McEvoy’s insensitive and ill-timed remarks. Will you join me today, First Minister, in commending the fantastic work that Welsh Women’s Aid does, day-in, day-out, with vulnerable and abused women in communities in Torfaen and across Wales?

The First Minister: Yes, I would join you in that. Twitter is a dangerous thing, especially if you tweet on multiple occasions. You are right, the words that you used were a direct quotation from Councillor McEvoy, and those words were unfortunate, to say the least. He also went on to say that Safer Wales, as an organisation, helps to abuse children. I hope that Plaid Cymru condemns those remarks; they are wholly inappropriate, especially on the day that they were made.

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Jocelyn Davies: No problem at all, First Minister. I am the chair of the cross-party group on domestic violence, and I agree with you 100 per cent.

When you told us a few weeks ago that the Welsh Government would be taking forward the critical care unit in Torfaen on receipt of the business case, did you know that health projects were, in fact, on hold?

The First Minister: Health projects are not on hold. Health projects are being taken forward as we speak. It is right to say that some projects will need to be examined carefully to see how they fit with the model that we want the NHS to conform to in years to come.

I thank the Member for her comments in relation to Councillor McEvoy.

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Pwyllgor Gwasanaethau Iechyd Arbenigol Cymru

Welsh Health Specialised Services Committee

10. Kirsty Williams: A wnaiff y Prif Weinidog ddatganiad am waith Pwyllgor Gwasanaethau Iechyd Arbenigol Cymru. OAQ(4)0255(FM)

10. Kirsty Williams: Will the First Minister make a statement on the work of the Welsh Health Specialised Services Committee. OAQ(4)0255(FM)

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The First Minister: The committee represents the collective work of the seven health boards to plan and secure specialised and tertiary services for Wales. It is hosted by Cwm Taf Local Health Board and supported by a management team.

Kirsty Williams: WHSSC deals with some of Wales’s most complex and sick patients, some of whom can only be treated in NHS facilities in other parts of the United Kingdom. What steps is your Government taking to ensure that WHSSC deals with funding applications in a timely manner that allows Welsh patients to get the treatment that they need, regardless of where that is?

The First Minister: I would expect those applications to be dealt with in a timely manner. I am not aware of any examples of that not happening. Nevertheless, there will be some surgical procedures that are so specialised that they can only be delivered in one or two places across the whole of the UK, in order for surgeons to get the experience of carrying out the requisite number of operations. I would certainly expect the committee to deal with applications as quickly as possible.

Suzy Davies: At the WHSSC meeting today, First Minister, a group of 18 senior health officials from across Wales will receive a report on their financial performance. They will be told that, in the first seven months of this year, they have spent £3.6 million over the projected expenditure, with that overspend predicted to double by the end of the year. Specifically, the overspend on children and adolescent mental health services will continue to deteriorate, and rather than being able to find savings, the committee will have to find more money for complex cardiology in Abertawe Bro Morgannwg University Local Health Board. This must be down to management disarray across Wales or to your Government’s cuts to the NHS. Which is it?

The First Minister: It is a difficult time for the NHS. We have kept NHS spending steady for the next three years, as opposed to the cuts that are being put in place in England. I will go no further—I have said it many times. To suggest that there are no cuts in England is cloud-cuckoo-land, frankly. Yes, there are challenges in the NHS, and we will continue to monitor the NHS closely over the course of the financial year in order to provide a good service to the people of Wales.

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Chwythu’r Chwiban

Whistleblowers

11. Lindsay Whittle: Sut y mae Llywodraeth Cymru yn mynd i’r afael â gwahaniaethu yn erbyn 'chwythwyr chwiban’ yn y sector cyhoeddus. OAQ(4)0260(FM)

11. Lindsay Whittle: How is the Welsh Government tackling discrimination against 'whistleblowers’ in the public sector. OAQ(4)0260(FM)

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The First Minister: All public sector bodies are covered by the Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998, and each organisation is expected, as a minimum, to have a senior manager responsible for addressing concerns raised in confidence outside the usual management chain.

Lindsay Whittle: Thank you for that reply, First Minister. I also thank you for arranging to have the Permanent Secretary of the Welsh Government send me the comprehensive policy document on this subject. I must say that policy here is very enlightened; praise where praise is due. However, would you propose that the Welsh Government issue stricter guidance for public sector organisations on how to deal fairly with well-intentioned whistleblowers?

The First Minister: Whistleblowing policy is not something that is devolved, but if there are specific examples that you could provide that would give us evidence as to why we need to give guidance to public sector bodies, I would be grateful to receive it.

Angela Burns: Thank you for that confusing answer to Lindsay Whittle. You say that whistleblowing policy is not devolved, but surely the running of our educational institutions and the health service is fully devolved. Therefore, are we not able, as we do with so many of our other social care requirements, to put forward a clear protection of whistleblowing policy, in the public sector at least, and perhaps also into some of the non-governmental organisations that we support? That is a key issue. I also have many constituents who have come out the wrong end of it and have lost everything—their jobs and the full works—for just trying to honestly point to faults in the system. Your answer, saying that it is not devolved, is completely spurious.

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2.15 p.m.

The First Minister: It is not devolved. It is a matter of employment law and the Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998, which is not devolved. It is as simple as that; it is a legal certainty. We will seek to provide guidance. We cannot change the law; that is clear. We can certainly provide guidance for bodies, if it is felt that it is needed, and I am open to receiving evidence from Members of difficulties in the procedure in order to see whether that guidance needs to be made or strengthened.

Mark Isherwood: Wales has the highest proportion of whistleblowers in the UK. As a union official recently told me, based on his experience with tribunal judgments, too many organisations in Wales in receipt of public money treat their staff appallingly badly. I have had wide experience of many vindicated whistleblowers, such as the former internal audit manager in Flintshire, vindicated by employment tribunal, the former head of technical services in Flintshire, vindicated by PricewaterhouseCoopers at a full independent inquiry, the Plas Madoc Communities First whistleblower, vindicated by the Wales Audit Office, the Hafal Wrexham whistleblower, vindicated by an employment tribunal, and the former Communities First co-ordinators who I am currently working with on further allegations. In each case, they have suffered threats and false allegations, and, in each case, when the Welsh Government has been asked for help, it has looked the other way and protected vested interests. You have put the lid on matters and, on many occasions, you have protected and even rewarded the perpetrators. Why do we have to live in a Wales in which messengers are shot, complainants are silenced, dissent is squashed and whistleblowers are smeared? I have met too many people whose lives have been destroyed to have you come up with a UK-based or glib answer.

The First Minister: There was no question there. The comments made by the Member would have far more resonance if his party was not trying to destroy the right of such people to go to tribunal in the first place, by making it more expensive for people to go to tribunal and more difficult for people to get the kind of help that they need, and if it was not trying to wreck the Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations 2006, and all of the protection that that provides, and to reduce employment rights. What did the Chancellor say today? He said that Britain cannot afford employment rights for its own workers. We will not take any lessons from the party opposite, because all it wants to do is to make it far more difficult for people to get the rights that they have enjoyed for many years. [Interruption.] It is on the side of the people who are making lots of money, not on the side of ordinary people in the squeezed middle in this country.

The Presiding Officer: Order. It is getting very rowdy this afternoon.

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Diwydiant Amaeth

Agriculture Industry

12. Llyr Huws Gruffydd: A wnaiff y Prif Weinidog ddatganiad am gynlluniau ei Lywodraeth i gefnogi’r diwydiant amaeth. OAQ(4)0259(FM)

12. Llyr Huws Gruffydd: Will the First Minister make a statement on his Government’s plans to support the agriculture industry. OAQ(4)0259(FM)

Y Prif Weinidog: Yr wyf wedi gwneud ymrwymiad cadarn i sicrhau dyfodol ffyniannus i amaethyddiaeth yng Nghymru.

The First Minister: I am firmly committed to securing a prosperous future for Welsh agriculture.

Llyr Huws Gruffydd: Diolch am yr ateb hwnnw, Brif Weinidog. Nid yw rhagolwg busnes y Cynulliad yn dangos y gallwn ddisgwyl datganiad gan Weinidog yr Amgylchedd a Datblygu Cynaliadwy ynglŷn â TB mewn gwartheg tan y flwyddyn nesaf, ac yn sicr ddim yn ystod hanner cyntaf mis Ionawr. A allwch gadarnhau eich bod yn disgwyl i’ch Gweinidog wneud datganiad llafar i’r Senedd ar bwnc mor bwysig â hwn, ac nid rhyddhau datganiad ysgrifenedig, o bosibl pan na fydd y Cynulliad yn eistedd?

Llyr Huws Gruffydd: Thank you for that response, First Minister. The Assembly business outlook does not show that we can expect a statement by the Minister for Environment and Sustainable Development on bovine TB until next year, and certainly not during the first half of January. Could you confirm that you expect your Minister to make an oral statement to the Senedd on such an important issue as this, and not to release a written statement, possibly when the Assembly is not sitting?

Y Prif Weinidog: A bod yn deg, mae’n hynod bwysig bod y Gweinidog yn cael digon o amser i ystyried yr adroddiad. Mae hynny’n bwysig dros ben yn gyfreithiol. Ar ôl iddo wneud yr ystyriaeth honno, bydd datganiad yn cael ei wneud i’r Cynulliad.

The First Minister: To be fair, it is exceptionally important that the Minister has sufficient time to consider the report. That is exceptionally important legally. After he has considered it, a statement will be made to the Assembly.

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Antoinette Sandbach: Will you confirm that you will release that report into the public domain when the Minister receives it? Secondly, will you confirm that your Government will be willing to resume the previous One Wales Government’s TB eradication strategy, if that is the recommendation of this report?

The First Minister: Yes, the report will be made public. It is not possible to pre-judge the decision in any way and the Minister will consider the report when it is available.

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Safonau Cyrhaeddiad

Attainment Standards

13. David Melding: A wnaiff y Prif Weinidog ddatganiad am safonau cyrhaeddiad ymysg plant sy’n derbyn gofal. OAQ(4)0254(FM)

13. David Melding: Will the First Minister make a statement on attainment standards amongst looked after children. OAQ(4)0254(FM)

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The First Minister: The points score with regard to qualifications for 16-year-old looked-after children has increased annually over the past four years, but attainment is still too low. Vulnerable children remain a key priority for us.

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David Melding: Do you believe, as I do, that we should set a standard that is not far off the general standard for the population as a whole, and, until we do that, we will not send the sort of message that we need to send to our schools about how looked-after children are supported as they take public examinations? At the moment, we are not ambitious enough for looked-after children, although we should note that some progress is being made and welcome that.

The First Minister: On 1 September we introduced a duty on governing bodies of maintained schools in Wales to designate a member of staff for looked-after children who will champion their interests and strive to raise their standards. We have also established a national network of looked-after children’s education co-ordinators who share knowledge, understanding and, indeed, who collaborate. Yes, I look forward to the time when there is no difference between the outcomes for looked-after children and for the population as a whole.

Jenny Rathbone: I suggest that one of the standards that we need to set is for the attendance of looked-after children at school, because, however brilliant the teaching, if the children are not there, they will not be able to learn. Unfortunately, Cardiff Council has one of the lowest rates of attendance of looked-after children of all local authorities. What do you plan to do to rectify that?

The First Minister: Cardiff’s response to underperformance on outcomes for looked-after children has been much slower than anticipated, but changes in leadership at an operational level, and improved data usage in informing strategic direction and resource provision, will, we hope, soon have an impact.

Lindsay Whittle: First Minister, you will be aware of the excellent work that Raising Attainment and Individual Standards in Education does in collaboration with local education authorities in Wales, in particular with regard to looked-after children. What is your Government doing to assist and encourage more schools across Wales to work with the organisation to improve attainment records?

The First Minister: That is a matter for the member of staff who has been appointed to champion the interests of looked-after children, working with the local authority to examine the best way of ensuring better outcomes for looked-after children.

Kenneth Skates: I warmly welcome the points that you have just raised and the commitment of this Labour Government to looked-after children. Last week, I joined my colleague Ann Jones and staff from Action for Children at Bryn y Wal children’s home in Rhuddlan. The visit was a superb opportunity for us to see, at first hand, some of the challenges facing young people as they prepare for adult life. Will the Welsh Government examine how it can better support care leavers over the next few years to ensure that the young people whom I met on Friday are given the same opportunities and support as their peers not in care?

The First Minister: We have implemented provisions under the Children and Young Persons Act 2008 to strengthen local authorities’ duties in relation to looked-after children and other vulnerable children. In the early part of next year, we will consult on arrangements to enable care leavers to reconnect to care for the purpose of education and training.

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Blaenoriaethau ar gyfer Tor-faen

Priorities for Torfaen

14. Lynne Neagle: A wnaiff y Prif Weinidog amlinellu blaenoriaethau Llywodraeth Cymru ar gyfer Tor-faen. OAQ(4)0261(FM)

14. Lynne Neagle: Will the First Minister outline the Welsh Government’s priorities for Torfaen. OAQ(4)0261(FM)

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The First Minister: Yes. They are found in the programme for government.

Lynne Neagle: Residents in one of the poorest communities in Wales have been left stranded by a decision to stop operating the bus service between Trevethin and Pontypool in the evenings. As I am sure you will remember from your visit in April, Trevethin is at the top of a hill, meaning commuters from the area are now able to travel to work, but not back again, and elderly and disabled residents are unable to access shops and services in Pontypool in the evening. Working with the local authority and the bus operator, I will be doing everything that I can to find a way to get this vital service restored. Do you agree that bus routes serving deprived areas such as Trevethin are a social and economic lifeline and that we must do everything that we can to maintain them, even in these incredibly tough times?

The First Minister: Powers to regulate the bus industry rest with the UK Government. The commissioner for the whole of Wales is, ridiculously, in Birmingham, and experience tells me that the commissioner is fairly toothless. We are keen to see more statutory quality bus partnership schemes that allow local authorities and bus operators to work together to plan and deliver local bus services that meet the needs of local communities. I would hope that the local authority and bus company can come together to see what can be done to provide a sustainable service for the community.

Mohammad Asghar: First Minister, Shahinoor Tandoori curry house in Cwmbran has been nominated for the Bangladesh Caterers’ Association’s Welsh caterer of the year award. Will you join me in congratulating the establishment on its nomination? Given the increasing popularity of Bangladeshi cuisine across Wales, how can the Welsh Government promote the successes of such Welsh-based establishments, notably the entrepreneurial talent that exists inside them, and the excellent cuisine that they produce?

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The First Minister: I commend the establishment that you have mentioned on its successes. I am hesitant to single it out above all others, because I know that there are so many across the whole of Wales that have been very successful. There are events that recognise the achievements of Bangladeshi restaurateurs, the UK curry awards being one example. We see now a new generation of restaurants that might describe themselves as Indian restaurants but are, in fact, run by Bangladeshi families, and we see the innovation in terms of the cuisine and décor in many parts of Wales. The example that you have given is one among many where great thought is being given to improving the business model.  

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Rheoliadau Cyllido Ysgolion

School Funding Regulations

15. Aled Roberts: A wnaiff y Prif Weinidog ddatganiad ynglŷn â pha gynghorau sirol sydd yn gweithredu polisiau ar arian ysgolion wrth gefn yn unol â Rheoliadau Cyllido Ysgolion (Cymru) 2010. OAQ(4)0262(FM)

15. Aled Roberts: Will the First Minister make a statement on which county councils operate policies on school reserves, in accordance with the School Funding (Wales) Regulations 2010. OAQ(4)0262(FM)

Y Prif Weinidog: Mae pob un o’r awdurdodau lleol yn gallu defnyddio darpariaethau sy’n caniatáu i gamau penodol gael eu cymryd pan fydd y cyllidebau sydd dros ben gan ysgolion yn cyrraedd trothwy penodedig. Byddwn yn edrych i weld beth fydd effaith y pwerau hynny dros y ddwy flynedd nesaf.  

The First Minister: All local authorities are able to use provisions allowing certain actions to be taken when surplus school budgets reach a specified threshold. We are looking to see what the impact of the powers will be over the next two years.

Aled Roberts: Dywedodd y Gweinidog addysg yr wythnos diwethaf nad oedd pob cyngor sir yn gweithredu’n unol â’r polisïau. A wnewch sicrhau bod yr ysgolion yn defnyddio’r arian sydd wrth gefn er budd y disgyblion hynny sydd yn yr ysgolion ar hyn o bryd?

Aled Roberts: Last week, the Minister for education said that not all councils operate in line with the policies. Will you ensure that schools use their reserves for the benefit of those pupils who are in the schools at present?

Y Prif Weinidog: Mae hynny’n fater i awdurdodau lleol, wrth gwrs. Mae pob awdurdod ac ysgol yn wahanol, ond byddwn yn ystyried perfformiad awdurdodau lleol ynglŷn â hyn yn ystod y ddwy flynedd.

The First Minister: That is a matter for local authorities, of course. Each authority and school is different, but we will consider the performance of local authorities in this regard over the two years.

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Janet Finch-Saunders: First Minister, the amount spent per pupil in Wales is £605 less than in England, yet the overall amount held in reserves by schools in Wales is enough to allow for an additional £163 to be spent per pupil. Indeed, as of 31 March 2011, 34 per cent of schools in Wales had reserves of higher than 5 per cent of their delegated school expenditure, and over 17 per cent had reserves of higher than 10 per cent, despite the School Funding (Wales) Regulations 2010. What guidance and advice is the Welsh Government giving to councils in order to ensure that the School Funding (Wales) Regulations are adhered to, and will you discuss with the Minister for Education and Skills how to ensure maximum spend and support for all of our children in Wales?  

The First Minister: The fact that schools have reserves is not an excuse to cut education funding. If that is being suggested, I would have some strong words to say about it. Bear in mind, of course, that the new regulations only came into being in May of this year, so it is important that an evaluation is taken after the two-year period. It is far too early to judge the success of the regulations, given the fact that it has only been some months since they were introduced.

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Simon Thomas: Pwrpas y rheoliadau hyn oedd sicrhau bod arian yn cael ei ddefnyddio yn y ffordd fwyaf effeithiol ac yn uniongyrchol ar gyfer plant a phobl ifanc. A wnaiff y Gweinidog gadw’r polisi hwn dan arolygiaeth? Mae’n hynod o bwysig mewn cyfnod o gyni ein bod yn gweld adnoddau yn cael eu rhyddhau i helpu plant i gyrraedd eu llawn botensial ac, mewn cyfnod lle nad oes gan y Llywodraeth lawer o arian wrth gefn, mae’n bwysig nad yw ein hysgolion yn cronni arian ychwaith.

Simon Thomas: The purpose of these regulations was to ensure that money is used in the most effective way possible and that it is spent directly on children and young people. Will the Minister keep this policy under review? It is very important indeed in times of hardship that we see resources being released to help children and young people to reach their full potential and, in a period where the Government is not sitting on large reserves, it is important that our schools do not accrue money either.

Y Prif Weinidog: Fel y dywedais, caiff y defnydd o’r pwerau a’u heffaith eu hasesu ar ôl dwy flynedd.

The First Minister: As I have said, the use and impact of these powers will be assessed after two years.


Cwestiynau i Weinidog yr Amgylchedd a Datblygu Cynaliadwy
Questions to the Minister for Environment and Sustainable Development

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Ynni Cynaliadwy

Sustainable Energy

1. Alun Ffred Jones: A wnaiff y Gweinidog ddatganiad am y broses gynllunio datblygiadau ynni cynaliadwy. OAQ(4)0069(ESD)

1. Alun Ffred Jones: Will the Minister make a statement on the sustainable energy development planning process. OAQ(4)0069(ESD)

Gweinidog yr Amgylchedd a Datblygu Cynaliadwy (John Griffiths): Awdurdodau cynllunio lleol, drwy eu pwerau cynllunio gwlad a thref, sy’n gyfrifol am benderfynu ar brosiectau ynni ar y tir sy’n 50 MW ac yn llai. Y Comisiwn Cynllunio Seilwaith a’r Ysgrifennydd Gwladol dros Ynni a’r Newid yn yr Hinsawdd sy’n penderfynu ar brosiectau dros y trothwy hwn ar hyn o bryd.

The Minister for Environment and Sustainable Development (John Griffiths): Onshore projects of 50 MW and under fall to local planning authorities to determine under their town and country planning powers. Over this threshold, projects currently fall to the Infrastructure Planning Commission and the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change to determine.

Alun Ffred Jones: Diolch am esbonio’r sefyllfa bresennol. Mae nifer o brosiectau ynni cynaliadwy hydro yn methu symud ymlaen oherwydd costau ychwanegol ac anawsterau sy’n ymwneud â’r broses gynllunio, o safbwynt costau cysylltu â’r grid a chymysgwch hefyd ynglŷn â grantiau i gefnogi rhai o’r mentrau hyn. Pa gamau yr ydych wedi eu cymryd i geisio goresgyn y problemau hyn sy’n wynebu degau o gynlluniau ar hyd a lled Cymru?

Alun Ffred Jones: Thank you for explaining the current situation. A number of hydro energy projects are unable to proceed because of additional costs and difficulties involving the planning process, in terms of the cost of linking to the grid and confusion regarding grants to support some of these enterprises. What steps have you taken to try to overcome the problems that are facing scores of schemes the length and breadth of Wales?

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2.30 p.m.

John Griffiths: I thank the Member for that supplementary question. There is support in place through the Welsh Government. Ynni’r Fro is a very important aspect of not only advice and assistance for community and small-scale projects, but financial support. I know that connections to the grid are an issue, and I know that Ofgem has held stakeholder workshops across Wales—in fact, there was one in Cardiff in October—to look at these issues of small-scale connection and to hopefully find ways forward. Community Energy Wales is also an organisation that is, more recently, addressing these issues, and hopefully finding solutions, including those involved in the financing of projects.

Kenneth Skates: Minister, from manufacturers such as Kronospan in Chirk in my constituency, to small seedling companies further along the Welsh border, the number of people employed in local forestry, timber production and the wood products industry in Clwyd south is significant, and indeed, for the whole of Wales, I understand that the sector generates more than £840 million for the economy and employs 10,000 people. What work is your department and the Welsh Government doing to ensure the viability of sustainable wood production in Wales, and to facilitate a close working relationship between those who manage our forests and those who rely on wood production in their businesses?

John Griffiths: I thank Ken Skates for that question. I was recently in Ruthin—which is not in your constituency, I know, but it is nearby—talking about these issues with a local timber company. It is clear that forestry is a very important aspect of life in Wales in many different ways, but it is also particularly important in terms of the availability of timber for private enterprise and general support of private enterprise and business activity. Those are issues that will be very much at the heart of Welsh Government policy around forestry, including policy around a single environment body, ensuring that the advantages of forestry activity are maintained and built upon for the future.

Russell George: Minister, Wales could potentially be a significant player in the field of renewable energy—and I should add that renewable energy does not mean just wind—which could pave the way forward for a dynamic, green economy. Are you as concerned as I am about comments made by renewable energy companies a few weeks ago that there was no clarity in Government policy and that Wales lacked ambition and leadership?

John Griffiths: It is clear that there is leadership in the Welsh Government on energy policy and a clear understanding of the advantages of the green economy and green jobs. However, what is very frustrating for Welsh Government, and for many others, is the complex situation that needs to be addressed by further devolution. That 50 MW limit in terms of Welsh Government consenting powers is not conducive to creating the sort of environment that we would like to have in Wales to facilitate renewable energy and all the advantages that go with it. We really need that further devolution, and the First Minister and I, and many others, have made that clear on a number of occasions, and will continue to do so.

Russell George: I appreciate that answer, but the fact remains that the current policy is a total mess. Companies are still trying to understand what the First Minister said back in June, not to mention the onshore energy gap you have acquired with the backpedalling on TAN 8 target figures. Will you concede that if we are going to ensure investor confidence and get anywhere close to the Government’s targets for sustainable energy generation, we have to review TAN 8 and embrace new and improved renewable technologies in areas like marine and tidal energy and move away from the Government’s overdependence on wind?

John Griffiths: The Welsh Government’s renewable energy policy is about a mix of renewables, and onshore wind is an important part of that. TAN 8 provides a strategic approach to large-scale onshore wind development. We clarified that the GL Garrad Hassan figures are the maximum outputs. Those policies remain in place.

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Grŵp Strategaeth Rhwydweithiau Trydan

Electricity Network Strategy Group

2. Aled Roberts: Pa drafodaethau y mae’r Gweinidog wedi’u cael gyda’r Grŵp Strategaeth Rhwydweithiau Trydan ar faterion sy’n ymwneud â chynlluniau yng Nghymru. OAQ(4)0055(ESD)

2. Aled Roberts: What discussions has the Minister had with the Electricity Network Strategy Group on matters that concern plans within Wales. OAQ(4)0055(ESD)

John Griffiths: Mae Llywodraeth Cymru yn aelod o’r grŵp strategaeth rhwydweithiau trydan sy’n cael ei gadeirio ar y cyd gan yr Adran Ynni a Newid Hinsawdd ac Ofgem. Mae’r grŵp yn dod â’r prif randdeiliaid ynghyd ac mae swyddogion Llywodraeth y Deyrnas Unedig a’r gweinyddiaethau datganoledig yn mynychu ei gyfarfodydd. Mae’r grŵp yn trafod nifer o faterion sy’n ymwneud â Chymru.

John Griffiths: The Welsh Government is a member of the electricity networks strategy group, which is jointly chaired by the Department of Energy and Climate Change and Ofgem. The group brings together key stakeholders and is attended by officials from the UK Government and devolved administrations. A number of matters concerning Wales are discussed.

Aled Roberts: Weinidog, ymddengys fod Llywodraeth yr Alban, o fewn y grŵp hwnnw, wedi mynegi bod yn well ganddi rwydwaith tanfor rhwng Hunterston a Glannau Dyfrdwy, yn hytrach na pheilonau drwy’r Alban a Lloegr. A yw Llywodraeth Cymru wedi mynegi barn yn y grŵp?

Aled Roberts: Minister, it would appear that the Scottish Government, as part of that group, has expressed its preference for a subsea link between Hunterston and Deeside, rather than pylons in Scotland and England. Has the Welsh Government made its views known as part of that group?

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John Griffiths: Our views are expressed through officials, as this is a body that deals with technical matters and is attended by officials. Our views on undergrounding and the advantage of undergrounding are well known, and we will continue to stress that importance.

Antoinette Sandbach: Minister, when I have questioned the First Minister and you about the apparent absence of Welsh advocacy during the ENSG meetings, the point, as you have made today, has always been that your Government has mentioned the importance of undergrounding. However, in your Government’s submission to Ofgem’s Project TransmiT consultation in December 2010, you did not mention undergrounding once. The response was submitted after the consultation closed. Will you confirm whether this was a simple oversight or whether your Government has only recently begun to pay attention to the concerns of communities in rural Wales, whose lives may be blighted by the construction of a new network of high-voltage pylons?

John Griffiths: The Welsh Government’s policy on undergrounding and grid connections in general are well known and are about safeguarding communities and addressing the concerns of communities. That has been the case for quite some time and will continue to be so.

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Simon Thomas: Weinidog, nid wyf am godi bwganod ar y mater hwn, ond mae’n rhaid cael gwell system rhwydweithio trydan yng Nghymru er mwyn yr economi. Nid oes unrhyw amheuaeth ynglŷn â hynny. Wedi dweud hynny, mae tipyn o ddryswch ynglŷn â gwir gost tanddaearu ceblau trydan, ac mae’n bosibl bod llawer o gamarwain wedi digwydd yn lleol, er enghraifft ym Maldwyn, ynglŷn â’r wir gost. Onid yw’n wir dweud y gallai cymysgedd o danddaearu a pheilonau newydd uwchben y ddaear arwain at ateb derbyniol i gymunedau? Felly, yr wyf yn pwyso arnoch, Weinidog, i ddefnyddio’r dulliau priodol gorau ar gyfer hinsawdd, amgylchedd a daearyddiaeth Cymru.

Simon Thomas: Minister, I do not want to be accused of scaremongering, but we must have a better electricity network in Wales for the sake of the economy. There is no doubt about that. Having said that, there is some confusion as to the true cost of undergrounding, and it could well be that people have been misled locally, in Montgomeryshire for example, about that cost. Is it not true to say that a combination of undergrounding and new overground pylons could lead to a solution that communities find acceptable? Therefore, I urge you, Minister, to use the best appropriate means possible for the sake of the climate, the environment and the geography of Wales.

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John Griffiths: I thank Simon Thomas for that question. It is very much a matter of understanding the importance of developing renewable energy, including onshore wind, in Wales, for the reasons that we all know about. Ways can be found to carry out necessary improvement to grid infrastructure with the understanding of local communities and the costing aspects involved. We are working towards that with the other organisations involved at this time.

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Gwella’r Amgylchedd

Improving the Environment

3. Mohammad Asghar: Pa gamau y mae Llywodraeth Cymru yn eu cymryd i wella'r amgylchedd yn Nwyrain De Cymru. OAQ(4)0060(ESD)

3. Mohammad Asghar: What action is the Welsh Government taking to improve the environment in South Wales East. OAQ(4)0060(ESD)

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John Griffiths: I thank Mohammad Asghar for that question. I am committed to fulfilling, across Wales, the commitments set out for my portfolio in the programme for government. These include putting sustainable development at the heart of Government and integrating the way in which we manage and regulate our use of land, sea, air and water.

Mohammad Asghar: Thank you for that answer. Flood risk causes a great deal of concern to many of my constituents. Figures suggest that only 42 per cent of people living in flood-risk areas in Wales are aware that their property is at risk. That is considerably lower than the figure of 57 per cent from the previous year. What steps are you taking to improve communication with people living in flood-risk areas in Wales so that they are aware of the potential dangers they face and understand the relevant preparatory measures they can undertake? Are you concerned that, given these figures, Wales seems to have slipped backwards in terms of public understanding of flood risk?

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John Griffiths: I recently launched our national flood and coastal erosion risk strategy, and it is very clear from that document that, as well as building necessary defences against flooding, it is very much about raising awareness in communities and getting communities to be part of the best means of addressing the risks that exist. We are very committed to that approach. The Environment Agency has carried out a great deal of very good engagement exercises with communities right across Wales. We have helplines and flood warning systems. We need to ensure that people understand what they can do to best protect themselves and take the necessary action.

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Goblygiadau Deddf y Môr a Mynediad i’r Arfordir 2009 i Gymru

Implications of the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009 for Wales

4. Nick Ramsay: A wnaiff y Gweinidog ddatganiad am oblygiadau Deddf y Môr a Mynediad i’r Arfordir 2009 i Gymru. OAQ(4)0062(ESD)

4. Nick Ramsay: Will the Minister make a statement on the implications of the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009 for Wales. OAQ(4)0062(ESD)

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John Griffiths: I thank Nick Ramsay for that question. The Act provides us with new powers to manage and protect our marine environment, including developing marine plans, streamlining licensing systems and designating marine conservation zones.

Nick Ramsay: Thank you, Minister. I welcome what you have just said about the ability of the Welsh Government to have this influence over our coasts. I am sure that you are aware that the Wales Environment Link marine working group recently visited the Senedd for an excellent event hosted by Russell George. Many Members have signed the marine declaration, which encapsulates some of the issues you have just expressed, such as the need to protect our coastline. How are your policies intended to support the sentiments of the marine declaration? I believe that we are still waiting for another consultation exercise with regard to an input to how the marine conservation zones might function. Can you update us on progress with that?

John Griffiths: I thank the Member for the supplementary question. I welcome very much the good work done by the Wales Environment Link and different marine groups and marine interests. When we think about the conservation and protection of our marine environment, it is very important that we understand how we balance socioeconomic and environmental interests. That will be our approach. That includes the consultation on the marine conservation zones, which are very much about balancing those interests. My officials are taking forward a great deal of work at the moment in liaison with the groups involved, to ensure that, when we go to consultation, we do so with a strong scientific evidence base for designating perhaps a small number of highly protected zones.

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Capasiti Awdurdodau Cynllunio Lleol

Capacity of Local Planning Authorities

5. Vaughan Gething: A wnaiff y Gweinidog ddatganiad am gapasiti awdurdodau cynllunio lleol i ddelio â cheisiadau ar gyfer datblygiadau mawr. OAQ(4)0068(ESD)

5. Vaughan Gething: Will the Minister make a statement on the capacity of local planning authorities to deal with major development applications. OAQ(4)0068(ESD)

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John Griffiths: I thank Vaughan Gething for that question. It is the responsibility of local planning authorities to ensure adequate capacity to deal with planning applications, including those proposing major development.

Vaughan Gething: Thank you, Minister. As part of the energy inquiry currently being carried out by the Environment and Sustainability Committee, a constant theme has been the capacity or the lack of capacity in local planning authorities to deal with associated development from major energy infrastructure projects. That is proving to be a significant barrier to delivering on renewable energy targets. This is despite Welsh Government support for local planning authorities. Will you reconsider the technical support available to ensure that local planning authorities are able to adequately deal with the matter and do not continue to fail in this regard?

John Griffiths: It is obviously very important that the Welsh Government supports local planning authorities across Wales, particularly with regard to the more difficult and technical planning proposals, including renewable energy.

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2.45 p.m.

I know that local planning authorities are very much aware of Welsh Government policies for renewable energy and are expected to determine planning applications in a timely way. We provide additional resources in terms of expertise and funding for outside technical and expert help. We provide a range of materials and training events. On top of that, a toolkit is available for low-carbon and renewable energy, which is for planners. So, there is quite a lot of support available from the Welsh Government. It is something that we always look at to see whether improvement can be made.

Andrew R.T. Davies: Minister, large projects often have an impact on a far wider area than the specific council area where they will be located. While I passionately support the local angle in determining an application, are you considering including anything in the planning Bill that you will be bringing forward that would make local authorities take wider considerations into their determinations, such as economic, social and environmental impacts, so that the wider regional aspect can be considered in a planning application that is located in one particular authority area?

John Griffiths: What I can say is that much of the planning process is very much about understanding the wider impacts. Of course, sustainable development is important to our national planning policy, 'Planning Policy Wales’, and local development plans. Local development plans can, and do, take account of situations in neighbouring authorities and the wider region. I can tell the Member that John Davies, who is heading up the advisory group that has just issued a call for evidence, is looking at delivery and structures. The group’s work will feed in to the White Paper and the legislation on planning in Wales.

William Powell: In recent years, the Brecon Beacons National Park Authority has adopted an innovative approach to mitigating officer workload, particularly when dealing with major applications, as well as to better engage with local communities. In the case of housing developments of over 30 units on brownfield and greenfield sites, a comprehensive planning brief has often been required up front, funded by the proposed developer. Does the Minister back this approach?

John Griffiths: As I intimated earlier in answering previous questions, the way that the planning process works in Wales is driven locally. It is based on local development plans and local planning authorities. So, although other material considerations and national planning policy are always important, there is a considerable amount of scope for local planning authorities to adopt what they consider to be best practice. We always look to spread that best practice between local planning authorities in Wales.

William Powell: Thank you, Minister, for that answer. I will move now to a slightly different issue. Under the former Deputy Prime Minister, John Prescott, a pilot project was carried out of planning agent accreditation in certain authorities in England. What is the Minister’s view on such agent accreditation schemes, currently being contemplated by some Welsh local authorities, and their potential impact on planning officer workload?

John Griffiths: I would not readily disagree with my comrade John Prescott. It is a rather risky thing to do. [Laughter.] May I say to the Member that we are looking at these developments with considerable interest and we are talking, as we always do, to planning officers and local planning authorities right across Wales? We look at developments elsewhere with great interest as well, including those over the border. Working together, I hope that we will arrive at the best solutions.

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Cŵn Peryglus

Dangerous Dogs

6. Rebecca Evans: A wnaiff y Gweinidog ddatganiad am nifer yr achosion pan mae cŵn peryglus a 'chŵn statws’ wedi ymosod ar bobl yng Nghymru dros y pum mlynedd diwethaf. OAQ(4)0061(ESD)

6. Rebecca Evans: Will the Minister make a statement on the number of 'status’ and dangerous dogs incidents in Wales over the past five years. OAQ(4)0061(ESD)

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John Griffiths: I thank Rebecca Evans for that question. The figures obtained from the Department of Justice are based on the number of defendants proceeded against at magistrates courts in Wales under the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991, sections 3(1) and 3(3), for the five years up to 2010. These figures are open to different interpretations in terms of their robustness. Perhaps I will write to the Member setting out some of the issues involved.  

Rebecca Evans: Minister, there is a need to develop co-ordinated and targeted education programmes to assist in persuading dog owners to be more responsible and for dogs to be bred more responsibly. Will the Minister undertake a review of current legislation and practice with a view to increasing the focus on prevention and enabling enforcement agencies to undertake an early intervention, as well as seeking to deliver improved public safety and animal welfare standards and reducing costs?

John Griffiths: My officials and our lawyers are already considering issues around dealing with irresponsible dog ownership in Wales. Members will be familiar with the work on the draft dog breeding regulations. I have said previously that I would like very much to take forward a programme of microchipping all dogs in Wales. When it comes to the legislation on dangerous dogs, I am very keen to keep abreast of developments made by the UK Government to look at what is devolved and what is not in order to ensure that, as a whole, we can take forward a comprehensive approach. The first code of practice on dogs in the UK was implemented in Wales in 2007, so we have done some good things, and we need to build on that work.

Suzy Davies: Minister, as there has been a 5,000 per cent increase in the number of incidents involving dangerous dogs in recent years, I am pleased to hear you say that you are at least open to the idea of reviewing that further. However, are you confident that the legislation coming through the Assembly to address the role of puppy farmers, which are primarily located in west Wales, will also be effective against unscrupulous underground urban breeders of so-called 'status dogs’, some of which can become dangerous if they are not properly treated? During my visit to the Dogs Trust in Pen-y-Fai a few months ago, I was told that there had been a huge increase—both locally and nationally—in the number of Staffordshire terriers that are being dumped on the streets because of over-breeding by such operators and because the fashion in status dogs changes.

John Griffiths: I agree with the remarks made by the Member. The emphasis on the deed not the breed, as it is put, is very important. Once you identify particular dog breeds as being dangerous, it unfortunately leads to some people wanting to own them, rather than not wanting to, and they become a fashion accessory or a status symbol, to a certain extent. Therefore, it is important that that is looked at. This has to be done at a UK level under that aspect of the dangerous dogs legislation. However, in terms of our draft dog breeding regulations, we need to get the balance right between legitimate operations that really do adequately address welfare concerns and those that do not, and the sort of operations that the Member mentioned. I know that the Communication Workers Union, for example, which I will meet to discuss these issues soon, is very concerned about the lack of protection in relation to dog attacks on private property. That is another very important aspect of this matter.

Jocelyn Davies: Although the focus is normally on the animal, dangerous dogs are usually owned by irresponsible owners, and they must also be brought to book. You will be aware, Minister, of the recent horrific attack by a status dog on a woman and her pet in Pill in Newport, in the Presiding Officer’s constituency. You mentioned earlier that you support the idea of microchipping dogs; will you commit to making that compulsory and will you bring in legislation to impose it?

John Griffiths: I can tell Jocelyn Davies that that is my intention. I would like to see a statutory compulsory microchipping system in Wales. I have asked officials to work on that. Unfortunately, we see many examples of attacks by dangerous dogs and this matter must be dealt with.

Julie Morgan: I would like to draw the Minister’s attention to a very distressing incident that took place in Llandaff North in my constituency. The six-year-old son of one of my constituents, Dilwar Ali, was badly bitten on his face by a dog that went into the garden, then into the house, and then pursued him to his bedroom. It was an absolutely horrific attack. What can we do to prevent something like that from happening again?

John Griffiths: We obviously need much more responsible dog ownership. I hope that some of the matters that I have mentioned, such as compulsory microchipping and dealing with gaps in legislation such as the Dangerous Dogs Act and the dog breeding regulations, will work towards that. The Dogs Trust, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, local authorities and the police need to work together in order to ensure that the right messages are communicated. We have some good pilot projects relating to microchipping, neutering and offering advice—one of which is in Cardiff. So, work is going on in terms of community engagement, and I think that that is another important part of the overall picture.

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Allyriadau Diwydiannol

Industrial Emissions

7. Mark Isherwood: Beth mae Llywodraeth Cymru yn ei wneud i fonitro allyriadau diwydiannol. OAQ(4)0067(ESD)

7. Mark Isherwood: What is the Welsh Government doing to monitor industrial emissions. OAQ(4)0067(ESD)

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John Griffiths: I thank Mark Isherwood for that question. We oversee the implementation of the environmental permitting regime, which requires the Environment Agency and local authorities to regulate industry compliance with environmental permits that set limits and require monitoring of industrial emissions. The regulators report these emissions through the pollution inventory and European pollutant release and transfer register.

Mark Isherwood: I am sure that you are aware that the most dangerous emissions in terms of their health impact are the smaller microparticulates of PM2.5 and below. However, I am told that these are not monitored downwind of incinerators and co-incinerators in Wales. The Chief Medical Officer for Wales has stated that death rates for children under the age of one are associated with deprivation, but according to ward-level analysis, a number of counties across Wales have shown that the highest rates of infant mortality are in wards where there is less deprivation, and that the least deprived wards have a higher rate of infant mortality than the most deprived wards. Do you therefore agree that action should be taken, and will you ensure that action is taken, to do that monitoring at ward level and to bring in appropriate monitors so that we can monitor for those microparticulates downwind of incinerators?

John Griffiths: What I can say to the Member is that there are, of course, many statutory agencies tasked with protecting public health and with monitoring emissions. When it comes to energy from waste, permits are required from the Environment Agency, and they will only be provided if a plant meets the necessary standards. Of course, there is monitoring and regulation thereafter. We had a statement from the Health Protection Agency with regard to energy from waste, in which it states that there are no significant adverse health impacts. So, there are agencies tasked with protecting public health whose advice we must take. Monitoring does take place by the Environment Agency and local authorities with regard to air pollution, and of course European legislation is significant.

I have some figures, which I could perhaps provide to the Member, that show that air pollution, including small particulate matter, has reduced significantly over recent years. I think that all Members would agree that that is very welcome indeed.

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Bethan Jenkins: A yw Llywodraeth Cymru wedi gwneud unrhyw ymchwil, neu a yw’n bwriadu gwneud unrhyw ymchwil, i’r effaith y gallai creu’r orsaf fiomas sydd wedi ei chynnig ar gyfer cwm Llynfi ei chael ar y lefelau llygredd yn ardal Port Talbot sydd gerllaw? A allai hyn olygu y byddai’r rheoliadau ar lefelau llygredd yn cael eu torri o ganlyniad i unrhyw ddatblygiad newydd gerllaw a fyddai’n ychwanegu at y broblem yn yr ardal hon?

Bethan Jenkins: Has the Welsh Government done any research, or does it intend to do any research, on the impact that creating the biomass station proposed for the Llynfi valley could have on the levels of pollution in the area of Port Talbot which is nearby? Could this mean that regulations on pollution levels could be gone against as a result of any new developments nearby that would add to the problem in this area?

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John Griffiths: Llywydd, I am not able to comment on any specific planning matter, given my ministerial responsibilities.

The Presiding Officer: Question 8, OAQ(4)0056(ESD), has been transferred for written answer.

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Cymoedd De Cymru

South Wales Valleys

9. Lynne Neagle: Pa gamau y mae’r Gweinidog yn eu cymryd i wella’r amgylchedd yng Nghymoedd De Cymru. OAQ(4)0063(ESD)

9. Lynne Neagle: What steps is the Minister taking to improve the environment in the South Wales Valleys. OAQ(4)0063(ESD)

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John Griffiths: I thank Lynne Neagle for that question. I am committed to fulfilling, across Wales, the commitments that are set out for my portfolio in the programme for government. These include putting sustainable development at the heart of Government and integrating the way in which we manage and regulate our use of land, sea, air and water.

Lynne Neagle: As you may be aware, I have been working with communities in Torfaen for many years to tackle the scourge of illegal off-road biking. It is an activity that causes a huge amount of disturbance and frustration for local residents, as well as doing irreversible damage to wildlife and important habitats on our hillsides and common land, in the Valleys and across Wales. I realise that this is an issue that cuts across the portfolios of several Welsh Government Ministers, but will you personally pledge to do everything you can in the months ahead to work towards a significant reduction in illegal off-road biking, which causes so much misery and damage to communities across Wales?

3.00 p.m.

John Griffiths: I very much recognise the good work done by the Member for Torfaen over a number of years on this issue, championing the concerns of her constituents. I am aware that, across Wales, there are many communities and access groups concerned about off-roading activities. The illegality of off-roading is a matter for the police, and I know that a number of enforcement operations have been held successfully across Wales. They work best when conducted in co-operation with other agencies, landowners and user groups. There are powers available to the police under the Police Reform Act 2002, and there is other related legislation as well. The work with community safety partnerships and the Wales off-road steering group has been important in pulling efforts together. I am committed to working with all of those organisations to ensure that we improve our services to address these concerns.

William Graham: Minister, in terms of improving the environment of our Valleys, will you join me in acknowledging the work undertaken by the Environment Agency, particularly with projects such as the removal of the Kentchurch weir? This has enabled the restoration of natural river connectivity and functioning almost to the source of the river, which was previously prevented by the weir. This has implications both for the aquatic environment and for angling.

 

John Griffiths: I agree that we have seen a great deal of improvement in water quality in Wales. By removing that weir, we have given 150 km of upstream water bodies a better chance of achieving good ecological status as part of the water framework directive. That is important progress and should be recognised.

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Rhodri Glyn Thomas: Weinidog, tra’n cytuno â’r hyn y mae Lynne Neagle a William Graham wedi’i ddweud ynglŷn ag achosion unigol, a ydych yn cytuno mai gwarcheidwaid naturiol yr amgylchedd yng Nghymru yw aelodau’r gymuned amaethyddol? A dderbyniwch, Weinidog, fod y gymuned amaethyddol yn ddrwgdybus o’ch ymrwymiad yn dilyn eich methiant i ddod i benderyfniad cyflym ar TB mewn gwartheg? A wnewch gydnabod y gwaith y mae’r gymuned yn ei wneud yn gwarchod ein hamgylchedd, a rhoi ymrwymiad i’w chefnogi hyd yr eithaf yn y cyd-destun economaidd sydd yn ei hwynebu?  

Rhodri Glyn Thomas: Minister, while agreeing with what Lynne Neagle and William Graham have said about individual cases, do you agree that the natural guardians of the Welsh environment are the members of the agricultural community? Do you accept, Minister, that the agricultural community is suspicious of your commitment, following your failure to come to a quick decision on bovine TB? Will you recognise the work that the community is doing in safeguarding our environment, and commit to supporting it fully in the current economic climate?

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John Griffiths: I reassure the Member—if he finds that necessary—that the Welsh Government is committed to working with the agricultural community and landowners, and understands what those players can bring to the table with regard to many of its policies, such as the natural environment framework. On bovine TB, we have made it clear for several months that we hoped to have the report available in late Autumn—we are there now—and we will then give it full consideration before coming back to Plenary and setting out the way forward.      

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Sefydlu Un Corff Amgylchedd i Gymru

Establishing One Environmental Body for Wales

10. Simon Thomas: Pa drafodaethau gyda staff y mae’r Gweinidog wedi eu cael ynglŷn â sefydlu un corff amgylchedd i Gymru. OAQ(4)0065(ESD)

10. Simon Thomas: What discussions with staff has the Minister had with regard to establishing one environmental body for Wales. OAQ(4)0065(ESD)

John Griffiths: Yr wyf wedi trafod y cynigion ar gyfer sefydlu un corff amgylcheddol gyda nifer o weithwyr o bob un o’r tri sefydliad. Maent wedi rhannu eu barn a’u pryderon gyda mi ac yr wyf wedi gofyn i fy swyddogion fynd i’r afael â’r materion hyn yn yr achos busnes a anfonwyd ataf yn ddiweddar.  

John Griffiths: I have discussed the proposals for a single environment body with a range of staff from all three organisations. They have told me their views and concerns and I have asked my officials to address these issues in the business case that was recently submitted to me.  

Simon Thomas: Diolch, Weinidog, am gadarnhau eich bod wedi cynnal trafodaethau â staff. Croesawaf eich datganiad heddiw eich bod, fel Llywodraeth, yn bwriadu bwrw ymlaen i sefydlu un corff amgylcheddol i Gymru. Mae’n amlwg bod pryderon a chwestiynau yn codi yn sgîl hynny. A wnewch gadarnhau y bydd ymgynghoriad llawn yn awr a chyfle i staff ac eraill fynegi barn fel rhan o’r ymgynhoriad hwnnw? A wnewch hefyd amlinellu i’r Cynulliad faint o arbedion ariannol yr ydych yn disgwyl eu gwneud wrth beidio â thalu costau corfforaethol sy’n mynd dros y ffin a’u defnyddio i gefnogi staff a’r amgylchedd yng Nghymru?

Simon Thomas: Thank you, Minister, for confirming that you have held talks with staff. I welcome your announcement today that you, as a Government, intend to press forward to establish one environmental body for Wales. Clearly, that raises some concerns and questions. Will you confirm that there will now be full consultation, and an opportunity for staff and others to express their views as part of that consultation? Will you also outline to the Assembly the scale of the financial savings that you expect to make in not having to pay corporate costs that cross the border, using them instead to support staff and the environment in Wales?

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John Griffiths: We have held a process over several months to examine the business case. It has been the subject of extensive external review. It has involved staff from the three bodies, trade unions and Assembly officials. I am confident that it has been a robust and proper process to deal with all of the issues involved. As we move forward, it is important that we have a full consultation, and I am happy to give an assurance that that will take place.

 

When it comes to financial savings, a big part of the case is that substantial savings will be freed up over the long-term for front-line delivery. Part of those savings is about the ability of Wales to provide its own reservoir of experience, knowledge and expertise rather than buying in from across the border. That is an important gain from a single environment body.

Angela Burns: Minister, thank you for your answer to Simon Thomas. When you looked at the business case and evaluated the financial aspects and potential job losses of the merger, what parts of the business case dealt with the environmental targets of Wales? Given that we are failing to achieve our environmental targets, I have real concerns about how moving from three specialised bodies to one will improve the achievement of our environmental and biodiversity targets, as set by Europe. What part did they play in that business case?

   

John Griffiths: I can tell the Member that the environmental bodies in Wales are supportive of the move to a single environment body, and to the development of a natural environment framework, because they provide a much more integrated approach that pulls together all aspects of the environment in sustainable development. I am confident that the business case stacks up in hard facts and figures, but also in environmental objectives.

Peter Black: Minister, you will know that there is concern in the forestry sector about this merger, particularly because the Forestry Commission is at the forefront of the development of biomass heating in Wales, with groundbreaking and highly successful initiatives such as the wood energy business scheme.  Can you give assurances that the focus on this particular side of the business will not be lost if the Forestry Commission is subsumed into a new single body that has an emphasis on environmental protection?  

John Griffiths: I am pleased to give Peter Black an assurance on that front. As part of the business case and the work that has taken place and will take place, it will be a priority to ensure that all of the advantages of the Forestry Commission, including those that Peter Black mentions, are not just preserved but also built upon and enhanced.

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Tlodi Tanwydd

Fuel Poverty

11. Jenny Rathbone: A wnaiff y Gweinidog ddatganiad am flaenoriaethau Llywodraeth Cymru ar gyfer mynd i’r afael â thlodi tanwydd. OAQ(4)0059(ESD)

11. Jenny Rathbone: Will the Minister make a statement on Welsh Government priorities for tackling fuel poverty. OAQ(4)0059(ESD)

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John Griffiths: The Welsh Government’s priorities for tackling fuel poverty are set out in our 2010 fuel poverty strategy. Our new fuel poverty programme, Nest, has been designed to help all households in Wales with advice on reducing their fuel bills and to target the highest level of support to fuel-poor households.

Jenny Rathbone: David Cameron went as far as the North Pole to hug a husky to convince us that he was going to be running an environmentally green Government. However, the cut in the feed-in tariff announced on 31 October has, unfortunately, had a devastating effect on low-income families in my constituency, who are no longer able to access the advantages of putting solar panels on their roofs, thereby making a contribution to the environment. This relates to the demonstration on the steps of the Senedd this afternoon, which reflected the concerns of people in Africa. Ordinary people were able to make a real contribution to reducing global warming, but that now seems to have been cut off. What are you doing to try to persuade the UK Government to think again on this issue?  

John Griffiths: I understand and agree with the concerns expressed by Jenny Rathbone in terms of climate change and fuel poverty. It is very important, as I said previously in the Chamber, that all organisations in Wales affected by the proposed 12 December cut-off date for the current feed-in tariff rate make their views known and make the impact on them crystal clear to the UK Government. We will do that as a Welsh Government through the consultation process. I hope that organisations will feed in to us and respond directly. I went up to Westminster last week and met with Chris Huhne to make these very points and to stress as strongly as possible the effect on community organisations in Wales. My concerns were reinforced when I was in Mark Drakeford’s Cardiff West constituency and saw some of the good work going on in Ely and Caerau, through Communities First projects that had hoped to benefit from the current feed-in tariffs. Their plans have been totally disrupted by this proposed 12 December cut-off date.

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Mark Isherwood: Given the recent Office for National Statistics figures showing that excess winter deaths in Wales are up by 11 per cent and that Wales has the highest winter mortality rate compared with all England’s regions, given that the nearly poor and those in social isolation in Wales do not qualify for the Welsh Government’s fuel poverty schemes, such as Nest, and given the critical need for the Welsh Government to respond to the UK consultation on the green deal energy company obligations, which opened last week on 23 November, why has the Welsh Government’s fuel poverty ministerial advisory group not met since August 2010, despite parallel groups in England and Scotland continuing?

John Griffiths: Fuel poverty is a very important part of general poverty in Wales, and they need to be joined up. That is what our Nest scheme seeks to do. It provides advice and assistance for all people in Wales, even if they do not qualify for the direct package of measures on income grounds. There are other possible ways of providing assistance, including energy company obligations, as the Member mentioned. The ministerial advisory group has done some important work, but I feel that it is now a better approach to tie-in fuel poverty with our general strategy to tackle poverty in Wales, which is being taken forward by my colleague Carl Sargeant. Therefore, we are knitting in the fuel poverty strategy in Wales with the general anti-poverty effort. When I have met with energy companies, they have made it clear to me that a great deal of the benefit from their outreach work has been from making those links. The uptake of benefits that people are entitled to had a twenty-fold greater benefit for people contacted through the companies’ outreach programmes than direct fuel poverty measures. That shows the importance of tying all of this together.


Cwestiynau i’r Gweinidog Tai, Adfywio a Threftadaeth
Questions to the Minister for Housing, Regeneration and Heritage

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Polisi Cydgyfeirio

Convergence Policy

1. Aled Roberts: A wnaiff y Gweinidog ddatganiad ynglŷn â’r polisi cydgyfeirio rhwng rhenti tai cyngor a chymdeithasau tai. OAQ(4)0061(HRH)

1. Aled Roberts: Will the Minister make a statement on the convergence policy between council house rents and housing association rents. OAQ(4)0061(HRH)

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The Minister for Housing, Regeneration and Heritage (Huw Lewis): A rent convergence policy has been in place for some years, which aims to bring local authority rents in line with registered social landlord rents. While some progress has been made, the proposed new policy for social housing rents aims to bring about rent convergence in a more structured way.

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Aled Roberts: Ynglŷn â chodiadau rhent ar gyfer y flwyddyn nesaf, mae’n debyg mai’r traddodiad yw mai’r gyfradd chwyddiant ym mis Medi sy’n cael ei ddefnyddio fel mesur. Yr oedd y gyfradd chwyddiant ym mis Medi eleni yn 5.2 y cant. A ydych yn bwriadu edrych o’r newydd ar y sefyllfa? Ddwy neu dair blynedd yn ôl, edrychodd y Gweinidog ar y pryd ar roi’r gorau i’r gyfundrefn honno oherwydd y pryder ynglŷn â chwyddiant ym mis Medi. Efallai y dylech edrych ar yr un sefyllfa.  

Aled Roberts: In terms of rent increases next year, it seems that the tradition is that September’s inflation rate is used as a measure. The inflation rate in September this year was 5.2 per cent. Do you intend to look anew at the situation? Two or three years ago, the then Minister looked at stopping the use of that system because of concerns about inflation in September. Perhaps you should look at that situation.

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Huw Lewis: What you say is true, and it does give me cause for concern. I will return to the Chamber with proposals about next year’s rent policy within a short period of time. However, I hear what you are saying. I am well aware that many people up and down Wales are facing a great deal of difficulty when it comes to household budgets, and I will bear that very much in mind.

3.15 p.m.

Mark Isherwood: Given Welsh Government policy, as outlined by you, which means that local authority rents will have to rise at a higher rate than housing association rents until convergence is achieved, how do you respond to the concern expressed by some housing associations working with more vulnerable groups that the reduction in social housing grant funding in recent years has resulted in them increasingly having to rely on private finance, leading to higher rents, which are facing increased scrutiny from housing benefit departments? More to the point, those higher housing association rents, in consequence of the reduced social housing grant, will further uplift council rents if convergence is to be achieved.

Huw Lewis: There is a difficult line to be trod here. It is not assisted—to understate the matter considerably—by the Westminster Government’s policies on housing benefit, which are still very difficult to quantify and will begin to cause many of the least well-off citizens of Wales considerable problems from next April. There is a historic problem with levels of council house rents, in particular, which has, in part, some would say, led to disinvestment and, to some degree, may have led us into the issues surrounding poor quality housing that we are currently seeking to tackle, and have tackled very well across Wales over the last few years. There are difficult decisions to be made. I have postponed these until April 2013 to take full account of the enormous amount of consultation responses that were received as a result of the recent consultation on these issues.

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Cefnogi Diwylliant yn Abertawe

Supporting Culture in Swansea

2. Julie James: Pa gynlluniau sydd gan y Gweinidog i gefnogi diwylliant yn Abertawe. OAQ(4)0063(HRH)

2. Julie James: What plans does the Minister have to support culture in Swansea. OAQ(4)0063(HRH)

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Huw Lewis: I thank the Member for Swansea West for that question. I am committed to supporting cultural programmes in Swansea and across Wales. They make an invaluable contribution to the quality of people’s lives and contribute to the Welsh Government’s social, educational and economic agenda.

Julie James: Thank you for that, Minister. I am sure that the Minister is aware that it is the centenary of Dylan Thomas’s birth in 2014 and we are all getting excited about that in Swansea. It is important to acknowledge the importance of Dylan Thomas to Swansea and to Wales, and, indeed, internationally. What plans does the Minister have to celebrate in Swansea, Wales, and internationally on this important occasion?

Huw Lewis: I thank the Member for that question. I am sure that there would be a ready consensus in the Chamber and across Wales—recognising Swansea’s central role here, as well as the role of other parts of Wales, and Wales as a whole—regarding the need to mark the centenary of Dylan Thomas’s birth with a high-profile commitment to some kind of festival perhaps, building on existing events, such as the Dylan Thomas prize, and perhaps some other high-profile events also. Consideration of these matters is under way. To support all this, the Welsh Government has established the Dylan Thomas 2014 steering group, which will report to the First Minister, the Minister for Business, Enterprise, Technology and Science and me. Between now and 2014, there is a tremendous opportunity to get our plans in order to pay tribute to a great Welshman and thus showcase Wales as a whole to the world.

Suzy Davies: Swansea City Council and Swansea Metropolitan University have recognised that Swansea is a first-class location for growing and nurturing creative companies. Their innovative plans to offer business space to creative companies at the city’s Dylan Thomas Centre—the existing location for the Dylan Thomas festival—will reduce the live programming at the venue, with no clear plan as to where those events might be held. In a difficult climate, with competing priorities, what steps are you taking to ensure that local authorities’ arts provision is not the easy target for cuts? What are your views on the recommendation by the previous Assembly’s Communities and Culture Committee that local authorities should have a statutory duty to support arts and cultural provision locally?

Huw Lewis: I fully recognise the importance of the creative industries and creative companies in the overall work that I am undertaking on Swansea’s regeneration. It is at the forefront of our thinking and is taking the lead, in many senses, in our attempts to turn around the fortunes of Swansea city centre. It is very much at the centre of my concerns and I welcome that Swansea is showing the way in that regard. The Dylan Thomas Centre is a matter for the City and County of Swansea Council. I understand that discussions are being held with the higher education bodies in the city and county, and I wish them every success.

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Suzy Davies: Thank you for that answer. I am sure that you recognise that cultural activity is fundamental to the regeneration of such places as Swansea. Do you think that Swansea or its hinterland would make an excellent location for an information technology and creative industries enterprise zone?

Huw Lewis: That particular question would be best directed at another ministerial colleague. Once again, I do not think that anyone could accuse the Welsh Government of not recognising that, certainly with regard to Swansea, investment in cultural and creative activity and industries has been a leading thought and a guiding light, in many ways, with regard to our investment over the past few years, and it will continue to be.

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Bethan Jenkins: Efallai eich bod yn ymwybodol bod taliadau’r Gymdeithas Hawliau Perfformio yn wahanol ar gyfer bandiau ac artistiaid rhwng Radio Wales a Radio Cymru. Mae taliadau Radio Cymru’n llai. Mae band o Abertawe, Yr Angen, wedi dweud wrthyf fod y system yn bychanu cerddoriaeth Gymraeg ac yn annog cerddorion i ganu drwy gyfrwng y Saesneg. Pa drafodaethau y gallwch eu cael gyda PRS i fynd i’r afael â’r sefyllfa hon i sicrhau bod cydraddoldeb rhwng artistiaid sy’n dewis canu drwy gyfrwng y Gymraeg ac artistiaid sy’n dewis canu drwy gyfrwng y Saesneg?

Bethan Jenkins: You may be aware that Performing Rights Society payments are different for bands and artists between Radio Wales and Radio Cymru. Radio Cymru’s payments are less. A band from Swansea, Yr Angen, has told me that the system belittles Welsh music and encourages musicians to sing through the medium of English. What discussions can you have with the PRS to get to grips with this problem to ensure that there is equality between artists who choose to sing in Welsh and artists who choose to sing in English?

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Huw Lewis: In Swansea, of course.

Bethan Jenkins: The band is from Swansea.

Huw Lewis: I thank Bethan Jenkins for the question. I suggest that she supplies me with further detail on this issue so that I might investigate it further.

Bethan Jenkins: I want to clarify that the band is from Swansea. Following on from that, other bands from Swansea and south Wales in general have raised with me the fact that BBC Introducing, the Radio 1 show, is going to be regionalised in Wales, as opposed to there being individual radio shows for the nations, as part of the BBC’s Delivering Quality First agenda. There will be a lobby in Parliament on 19 December, and I invite you to join that lobby in your capacity as Minister to show that Wales is against these changes. Many bands have made it big through this radio show and we want to support this campaign, which has been initiated on Facebook.

Huw Lewis: I am unaware of the Facebook campaign, but I will readily look into the issue if the Member is willing to write to me with further detail about the implications for Wales and Swansea in particular.

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Tai Fforddiadwy

Affordable Housing

3. Antoinette Sandbach: A wnaiff y Gweinidog roi’r wybodaeth ddiweddaraf am gynnydd Llywodraeth Cymru o ran diwallu’r angen am dai fforddiadwy yng Nghymru wledig. OAQ(4)0058(HRH)

3. Antoinette Sandbach: Will the Minister provide an update on the Welsh Government’s progress in meeting the need for affordable housing in rural Wales. OAQ(4)0058(HRH)

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Huw Lewis: I thank the Member for North Wales for that question. Increasing the supply of affordable housing is one of my priorities. Since 2007, £87 million of social housing grant has been invested in rural areas. Recognising the particular challenges faced by rural communities, we continue to support rural housing enablers. They work closely with local communities to promote and deliver affordable housing.

Antoinette Sandbach: The lack of affordable housing in rural communities is a problem that is regularly raised by my constituents, who often have extremely limited opportunities to live near where they work. There were great hopes that the revised technical advice note 6 planning guidance would encourage a supply of rural enterprise dwellings, yet your Government is still not effectively monitoring local authorities, which are required to maintain a list of successful and unsuccessful applications. Having requested the information on 4 July, can you tell me when your Government will release those figures?

Huw Lewis: Presiding Officer, I am a little unclear as to which figures she is referring to.

The Presiding Officer: The Member is asking you the questions; it is not you asking me questions.

Antoinette Sandbach: Every local authority is required to report to the Welsh Government the number of successful and unsuccessful applications under TAN 6. Those reporting requirements were required to have been adhered to in May of this year, and, in July, that information was requested from you. When will that information be forthcoming?

Huw Lewis: I must ask the Member to write to me with a little more detail as to precisely which figures she is chasing. I can say in general terms that this week’s announcement regarding an empty properties recycling loan will have a major impact on housing shortages in rural Wales, combined with an extra £9 million towards the social housing grant, which was also announced this week. As regards the specific points, I will have to ask the Member to write to me on them.

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Kenneth Skates: Minister, I was pleased to read the report of your recent visit to Stockholm, particularly the plans that you have to learn from the way that social housing and co-operative models are used in the Swedish housing sector. I note that around 20 per cent of the Swedish population lives in co-operative homes, but that this is a largely unexplored route to affordable home ownership in the UK. What effort is the Welsh Government making with the Welsh co-operative sector to provide young families in my constituency with a leg-up into decent homes that they would otherwise be unable to access?

Huw Lewis: I thank Ken Skates for that question. The commitment to developing co-operative housing here in Wales is part of our programme for government. I am determined to make it happen, and work has already started. We have brought together experts from the housing and co-operative sectors to look at how their expertise can develop a Welsh approach to co-operative housing. That includes considering demand, delivery and funding, as well as overcoming, through a housing Bill, any legislative barriers that might exist towards its creation. Just yesterday I was at a well-attended and inspiring event that explored ways of developing co-operative housing, and I am hoping that it can be delivered in both rural and urban parts of Wales. This is an important additional means—I stress that it is additional—of increasing the supply of affordable housing, in this case not for rent, but to own. I hope that it will help to draw in new sources of finance as we move forward.

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Llyr Huws Gruffydd: Yfory yw dyddiad cau deiseb bwysig iawn yn galw ar y Llywodraeth i weithredu ar fyrder o ran y cynlluniau datblygu lleol, sy’n gyrru gorddatblygu mewn nifer o gymunedau o Fodelwyddan i Gaerfyrddin heb ddigon o bwyslais ar angen lleol ac ar dai fforddiadwy. A ydych felly yn fodlon ailfeddwl strategaeth sy’n rhoi cymaint o bwyslais ar godi tai anfforddiadwy, yn enwedig yn absenoldeb polisi cynhwysfawr gan y Llywodraeth i godi tai fforddiadwy?

Llyr Huws Gruffydd: Tomorrow is the closing date for a very important petition calling on the Government to take urgent action in terms of local development plans, which are driving over-development in a number of communities from Bodelwyddan to Carmarthen without sufficient emphasis on local need and affordable housing. Are you therefore willing to rethink a strategy that places so much emphasis on building unaffordable housing, particularly in the absence of a comprehensive Government policy for building affordable homes?

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Huw Lewis: I would not accept for a moment that there is no Welsh Government strategy for delivering affordable homes. That strategy is well-established, was pursued by my predecessor, and will be built upon and expanded by this Welsh Government. Local development plans are a matter for the local government body concerned.

Kirsty Williams: Minister, one aspect of housing in rural areas is that many people downsize into park homes, and, in trying to release equity, some people find themselves at the mercy of unscrupulous practices in that particular housing sector. Could you give the Chamber an update on your plans to bring forward legislation in this area to give better protection to the often elderly people who live in these park homes, so that they have the security that people in other types of housing enjoy?

Huw Lewis: I pay tribute to Kirsty Williams and her tireless commitment to people who find themselves in difficult circumstances through no fault of their own and happen to be resident in park and mobile homes. I can update the Chamber insofar as the timetable for legislation is becoming a little clearer. I intend to publish before Christmas a position paper for discussion purposes only, for ourselves as Assembly Members, for the wider community in Wales that is concerned about housing issues, and for the general public. I hope that that will signal the start of a national debate leading up to the publication of a housing White Paper in the spring. That will lead to Wales’s first-ever housing Bill sometime in 2013, but, before Christmas, we will have, I hope, through the paper that I have authored, a great deal to get our teeth into in terms of the beginnings of this debate.

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Tai Amlfeddiannaeth

Houses of Multiple Occupation

4. Jenny Rathbone: Pa gynlluniau sydd gan y Gweinidog i wella rheoleiddio landlordiaid preifat sy’n rhedeg Tai Amlfeddiannaeth. OAQ(4)0067(HRH)

4. Jenny Rathbone: What plans does the Minister have to improve the regulation of private landlords operating Houses of Multiple Occupation (HMOs). OAQ(4)0067(HRH)

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3.30 p.m.

Huw Lewis: I thank the Member for Cardiff Central for that question. Mandatory licensing for houses in multiple occupation of two storeys or more, with five or more occupants, and additional HMO licensing, was introduced in Wales in June 2006. I am currently considering what other measures might be appropriate for further regulation in the private rented sector. This will also form a major part of the debate leading up to the housing Bill.

Jenny Rathbone: As I am sure you are aware, Minister, Cardiff Central attracts a lot private landlords, some of whom are only desiring to make a quick buck out of the students who are often entering into their first contract and little aware of their rights as tenants. A scheme has been introduced in Cathays that regulates accredited landlords, and that seems to be the way forward. I wondered what legislation you might be planning in order to spread that out across the whole of Wales?

Huw Lewis: I am aware of the scheme, and local government already has the potential to pursue the subject of landlord accreditation in far-reaching ways at the moment. At present, it is voluntary, and I understand that around 1,300 landlords and letting agents are accredited through the scheme. As part of the deliberations around the contents of the forthcoming housing Bill, we are currently considering additional measures to improve the standards of management and property condition in the private rented sector as a whole, including HMOs. This would involve a more comprehensive approach to the private rented sector in Wales, and that approach would include accreditation and regulation. The housing White Paper, which, as I say, is coming in the spring, will be a chance for a root-and-branch debate, which would include those issues around accreditation, regulation, and support for landlords in the private rented sector.

Mohammad Asghar: Thank you for your answer to Jenny Rathbone, which I noted very carefully. Student accommodation is very scarce in certain areas in south Wales, especially university student accommodation. Student accommodation is often classed as HMO if the university or college is not managing the property. I have been approached by landlords in my region who are put off operating HMOs due to the cost of licences and other red tape. Meanwhile, there are many empty properties across south-east Wales. I appreciate the need for many of these regulations. I know that many students enjoy living like a family—students from China and India live like a family; if they live individually they have to pay a hell of a lot of rent for the property, but if they live together as a family, they do not pay that individual rent—they pay jointly and the economic burden on the students is reduced. It is also more helpful to foreign students in our part of the world. Will you give any consideration to altering the HMO regulation placed on landlords where certain circumstances dictate, as this could encourage and increase the availability of relevant accommodation and make it more affordable for students from other parts of the world?

Huw Lewis: Yes, I regularly enter into that debate as part of the wider debate around regulation and support for the private rented sector. We must grow the private rented sector here in Wales, and there will be increasing pressure on it. Issues of quality within the sector need to be addressed, and there are also questions of landlord support. There are regimes that we could envisage, if you like, that not only look towards perhaps wider consideration being given to registration and those issues of quality and safety, with which we would be very much concerned, particularly in terms of student accommodation, but also to landlord support and guidance. Good communication between local authorities, and, in this case, higher education institutions, is the starting point. There is also a role for legislation here.

Jocelyn Davies: We now have significant powers, including legislative powers, over the private rented sector, and we know that only the best landlords will join an accreditation scheme. We can be proud in Wales that we have the first national accreditation scheme in the UK. Sometimes, tenants within HMOs are the most vulnerable, and standards can be extremely low. Will you commit to giving protection to those tenants and insist on a minimum standard of accommodation as a right, and accept that these landlords simply will not join an accreditation scheme?

Huw Lewis: Jocelyn Davies is correct to say that accreditation is voluntary at the moment. I applaud those landlords who have stepped forward. There are many good landlords who are concerned about the image and profile of the private rented sector. We have the opportunity to have a root-and-branch debate. We need not continue with a purely voluntary accreditation system. Compulsory registration is on the table and is an option for discussion. There must be quid pro quo for that, if we go down that line. New systems of support for landlords, in terms of advice and assistance in entering the sector in the first place and so on, would be welcome too. There is a debate to be had between Government, the PRS and other interest groups.

Peter Black: There are two issues in relation to houses in multiple occupation: one is the proper licensing of those properties, making sure that they are managed properly and that they are in a fit state; and the other is the continuing conversion of existing properties into HMOs and the knock-on effect on local communities. When you put together your White Paper on housing, and the subsequent housing Bill, will you talk to the Minister for Environment and Sustainable Development about the additional planning powers you can give to local authorities to protect communities from a disproportionate number of houses in multiple occupation being developed in their areas?

 

Huw Lewis: I thank Peter Black for his question. The answer to his question is 'yes’.

Peter Black: Thank you for that answer, Minister; I am pleased that you are prepared to look at that. Looking at the other side of the equation in terms of the licensing of HMOs, as you know, we already have legislation in place in relation to specific houses in multiple occupation, and in some areas such as Cathays, and Brynmill in Swansea, we have an extension of licensing to other properties that are rented. Will you be looking, as part of the housing Bill, at how that licensing regime can be extended beyond those specific areas to other rented properties?

Huw Lewis: Yes, absolutely. There is already considerable scope for local authorities to tackle these issues. I fear that there are local authorities that do not have either the will or a grasp of what they could do for the general public good in this regard. However, I am more than willing to look at an extension of the geographical areas in terms of the reach of that kind of licensing, and to look at constructing a regime from the bottom up that looks at issues both of regulation, including the demands we are putting on the sector in order to reach a minimum standard right across the board, and of what wider society should be doing to support and grow the private rented sector.  

Ann Jones: You will know that housing is a top priority for the people in the west end of Rhyl, in my constituency. Last week’s announcement of £10 million for housing regeneration in that area was most welcome, and it signals your Government’s intention to enable good quality housing and a move away from the poor private rented housing that many are in at the moment. Do you agree that that is the way we should be going, and that we need ongoing investment in our areas to ensure that we will see some good sustainable communities develop in the future?

Huw Lewis: I thank Ann Jones for her question. I was more than happy to announce £10 million for housing regeneration in the west Rhyl ward this week. I am looking forward to visiting Rhyl again this week to discuss further regeneration plans for that town. Rhyl does exemplify several problems that unsupported and unregulated private rented sector development can inflict upon a community. What must be at the heart of our concerns, in terms of solving these problems, is the development and encouragement of a settled community in decent, affordable, accommodation. That is where we begin and end that debate.

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Gwasanaethau Llyfrgelloedd Rhanbarthol

Regional Library Services

5. Aled Roberts: A wnaiff y Gweinidog ddatganiad ynglŷn â'r cynlluniau i greu gwasanaethau llyfrgelloedd rhanbarthol ar draws Cymru. OAQ(4)0069(HRH)

5. Aled Roberts: Will the Minister make a statement on the plans to create regional library services across Wales. OAQ(4)0069(HRH)

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Huw Lewis: I thank the Member for North Wales for that question. I would like to commend the national, regional and local partnership working between public and academic library services across Wales to improve public access to library collections. Co-operation to maintain front-line services is at the heart of the Welsh Government’s 'Libraries Inspire’ framework that I launched recently at Treorchy library.

Aled Roberts: Minister, you will be aware that, this week, Conwy County Borough Council is discussing reorganisation plans within the library service. Press attention suggests that this comes as a result of criticism regarding its failure to meet library standards. Will you ensure that, in any collaboration projects where there has been good movement towards meeting those standards, there is no dilution of those standards across the regions?

Huw Lewis: North Wales is taking the lead here, and regional collaboration within library services in Wales is out there in front in the UK as a whole. Library services in Wales are, uniquely across Britain, showing an increase in borrower numbers, and the service is self-evidently getting the thumbs up and a vote of confidence from the Welsh people. However, I am aware of the particular problems being faced by Conwy County Borough Council. I think that they pre-date by some considerable margin any sort of criticism that there might have been of standards. I would not like people to get distracted by what is a difficult decision that the council has to take. I know that CyMAL is working closely with the council and is monitoring the situation. Ultimately, the county borough council is responsible for fulfilling the terms under the Libraries Act 1964.

Janet Finch-Saunders: Minister, the recent Welsh public standards report by CyMAL was actually quite a damning report that has not done Conwy any favours whatsoever, mainly because it only addresses six of the 14 standards set by that Government-funded public body. However, this is not what the people of Conwy feel. The report recognised that point in saying that the management and staff of the service are to be congratulated on the levels of commendation and support from the public. Yet, the same report sternly concludes that the Welsh Government expects to hear that the libraries modernisation process has been completed by the next annual return in July 2012, and that firm decisions have been made. In Conwy’s modernisation of library services, one of the options is to close seven of our 12 libraries. Minister, this is a top-down approach from this Welsh Labour Government. What are you doing to address the anger felt by many residents in Conwy, and is it not about time that you reviewed the remit of public bodies such as CyMAL and allowed libraries to function in the way that the people of Conwy want?

Huw Lewis: CyMAL is universally recognised—although, maybe not by the Member in question—as a supportive and collaborative organisation when it comes to working with library services right across Wales, and it has a fine track record of delivering improved library services, even in difficult circumstances and tough times. To shift the blame for those difficult decisions that are being made in Conwy to the expectations that CyMAL might have in the document that you referred to, could best be described as avoidance of the issue at hand.

Lindsay Whittle: Let us have some good news. Minister, I am sure that you will join with me in congratulating Caerphilly County Borough Council on opening three new state-of-the-art libraries, with a fourth planned in the new year. What assistance will the Government be giving to local authorities to help other parts of Wales to learn from the example of Caerphilly council in working together with a number of different organisations, including the Welsh Government, housing associations, the police and other sectors, to spread the cost of keeping libraries open?

3.45 p.m.

Huw Lewis: I thank Lindsay Whittle for the question. I am always ready to congratulate Caerphilly County Borough Council, even though I am paying for most of its successes. [Laughter.] It is very pleasing, and you are right to celebrate the progress that has been made in the county borough. Only last week, I visited the truly remarkable Hanbury Road chapel conversion in Bargoed, which is a traditional Welsh chapel that has been through a stunning, imaginative and very cost-effective conversion into one of the best library spaces that exists, to my mind, anywhere in the UK. Without the joint working between CyMAL and the local authority, it would not have been possible. I must also pay tribute to the Baptist congregation of Hanbury Road, who retain their place of worship in the building, because without their permission none of this would have happened. It is possible, and it could be important for other parts of Wales to look at collaborative examples, such as those that have happened within the boundaries of Caerphilly county borough, for a way forward, even in difficult times.

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Fflatiau Preifat

Private Apartments

6. Leanne Wood: A oes gan y Gweinidog unrhyw gynlluniau i adolygu taliadau gwasanaeth ar gyfer fflatiau preifat yng Nghymru. OAQ(4)0068(HRH)

6. Leanne Wood: Does the Minister have any plans to review service charges for private apartments in Wales. OAQ(4)0068(HRH)

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Huw Lewis: I thank the Member for South Wales Central for that question. I am aware of the concerns of some leaseholders who are being asked to pay sometimes significant sums in service charges. It is timely that you raise this issue as this is something that warrants further investigation and consideration of possible action on our part as a Government.

Leanne Wood: Minister, I know that you are aware from correspondence and meetings about problems, particularly in the Cardiff area, where some people are paying in excess of £200 a month for service charges. Campaigners say that there is a clear need to change the Commonhold and Leasehold Reform Act 2002 to make the purchase of the leasehold of flats much simpler, more transparent and fairer. Do you support that, Minister? If so, will you tell us in what way you are minded to change the law if the powers fall within your competence?

Huw Lewis: Yes; I am aware of the issues that Leanne has raised. I have met with Leanne and the residents that she mentions who are facing some of these problems. I recognise that there is a problem. We are in a curious halfway house when it comes to devolved powers: leasehold is devolved, so we can have a debate, in the run-up to the housing Bill that I keep mentioning, regarding what we might do with regard to leasehold reform; however, there are also aspects of these questions that relate to consumer law, which of course is not devolved. I am confident that we can do a great deal to introduce greater fairness into the system in Wales, if we work together during the run-up to that housing Bill.

Vaughan Gething: Thank you for the answer to the previous question, Minister. As you know, a number of these problems directly affect my constituents, especially in the Grangetown and Butetown areas, where service charges are being levied at significant rates, including where developments have only been part finished. Will you confirm that, when you consider whether regulation is an option for us, you will take into account the previous One Wales Government’s findings, including those of the Rugg review?

Huw Lewis: I thank the Member for Cardiff South and Penarth for that question. The Rugg review is very much at the centre of our thinking with regard to the way forward. I am also aware of your concerns as regards your constituents. There may be a separate debate to be had, or a separate conversation at least, about the situation in Cardiff bay, simply because of the concentration of problems that seem to be popping up here and the particular way in which the economic recession has hit what is a unique part of Wales when it comes to the type and scale of the housing development that has happened here in the near past. My door is always open for the Member and his constituents to discuss ways forward on these issues, whether they be legal reform or policy change.

Andrew R.T. Davies: I join in the support of the observations made by other Members today, especially regarding the Cardiff bay area. Some two years ago, I met residents who had a real issue about the level of charges that they face. At that time, when I raised it with the Government in Cardiff bay, there was much ambiguity over what could be done and which aspects of powers were left in Westminster. Minister, can you confirm this afternoon that your officials are actively pursuing where co-operation can improve the situation leaseholders find themselves in from the Westminster end? I was very heartened to hear your perspective that there is much that you, as Minister here in Cardiff, along with your officials can do as well. I look forward to your White Paper on this issue.

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Huw Lewis: I thank the Member for that. There is no equivocation on my part. There are genuine problems being thrown up by these often sudden and—to many people, particularly those on fixed incomes—shocking service charges. Of course, the pat answer is to say that this is the result of the lease that the leaseholder signed and that this is a private legal relationship between landlord and tenant. All that is true, but responsibility for leasehold is devolved. If leasehold agreements are being used for any sort of nefarious purpose or are causing distress because that is too simplistic a way of putting a legal framework around leasehold, I would be very open to looking at ways in which we can make the process more transparent and fairer, for the landlord and the tenant.

Eluned Parrott: Minister, I too would like to thank you for your answers to previous questions on the subject. I have been approached by residents of Prospect Place in Grangetown in Cardiff regarding the spiralling cost of their service charges. I understand that residents have had to absorb an increase of 150 per cent in the service charge over the past few years and are alarmed to find that they have no control whatsoever over how the money from those charges is used to maintain the fabric of their homes. What measures can you take, Minister, to protect the rights of these leasehold property owners, specifically to enable them to have a say in the maintenance of their homes?

Huw Lewis: I thank the Member for this point. This is what we are going to explore in the run-up to the White Paper in the spring and the Bill that will follow in 2013. As I say, we are in difficult territory here, because, although responsibility for leasehold is devolved, consumer legislation is not. We also have to consider the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985 and the implications for that Act. There are ground rules for service charges within the Act. There are definitions of what is considered to be a service charge, and there are even requirements for reasonableness and prior consultation. However, as I say, we need to do something if this is not adequate. I refer to my earlier answer to Ann Jones about Rhyl: I would hate to see problems such as this leading to the unsettling of communities, whether they are in Cardiff bay, Rhyl or anywhere else.

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Tariff Cyflenwi Trydan

Feed-in Tariff

7. Simon Thomas: Pa asesiad y mae’r Gweinidog wedi’i wneud o effaith newid y tariff bwydo i mewn ar gyfer ynni adnewyddadwy ar gymdeithasau tai yng Nghymru. OAQ(4)0071(HRH)

7. Simon Thomas: What assessment has the Minister made of the effect of changing the feed-in tariff for renewable energy on housing associations in Wales. OAQ(4)0071(HRH)

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Huw Lewis: I thank the Member for Mid and West Wales for that question. The UK Government is consulting on changes to the feed-in tariffs for solar photovoltaic generation, as you are aware. The proposed changes reduce the return on investment for projects markedly, and we are aware that many Welsh social housing projects will not be completed before the proposed changes are due to come in. In my view, this all amounts to a very regrettable act of bad faith on the part of the UK Government.

Simon Thomas: I thank the Minister for that reply. I agree with him. With one out of every four households in Wales being fuel poor, it is essential that social housing in particular delivers the best quality home insulation and energy production possibilities for tenants. In particular, in responding to the so-called consultation on this decision, will the Welsh Government take up the suggestion that social enterprises and housing associations in particular should not come under the multi-installation tariff? With the extra costs involved in installing over a wide range of flats and different sorts of buildings, it is essential that housing associations are treated equitably so that they can reinvest for the future, support their tenants and reduce Wales’s carbon footprint.

Huw Lewis: Yes, the Welsh Government will respond to the UK Government’s consultation with something of a heavy heart, when you consider that these decisions have been made before the consultation period is even over. I am aware of the particular problems in relation to social enterprises and registered social landlords, who are ready to commit. These decisions on the part of the UK Government will hit them, Welsh businesses and tenants. In our consultation response, we will ensure that we stand up for those organisations that, in good faith, embarked upon this work and are now seeing everything turned around and the rug being pulled from under their feet.

Nick Ramsay: Minister, do you agree that it is important that we get a sense of perspective on this issue of the feed-in tariff? While I hear the comments that you and Simon Thomas have made, and while I appreciate the concerns around this issue, it is not quite as straightforward as it has seemed. Of course, the feed-in tariff had certain costs in terms of household bills, for instance, and it was never originally envisaged for the scale of some of the schemes to which it has now been applied. That said, will you do what you can to deal with this issue of fuel poverty, which was mentioned at the end of Simon Thomas’s question? I think that I am right in saying that, at the last count, there were people in 61,000 homes classified as suffering from severe fuel poverty. Given the changes to legislation that are happening, will you undertake to do what you can to ensure that those homes in the social housing sector are able to deal with these issues of fuel poverty?

Huw Lewis: Perhaps I can help the Member with a sense of proportion. The average retrofit generation tariff as promised by the UK Government was around 43.3p per kWh. That has dropped to 21p per kWh, which is less than half. We also have the ludicrous cut-off date of 12 December. If you want another lesson in the scale of the problem, let me read to you a list of the bodies that I am aware of that are now in a considerable degree of distress because of the decision of the UK Government. I will not even give you the scale of them; it amounts to thousands of installations and hundreds of pounds per year that would have been saved by people on low or fixed incomes right across the country. The list includes Torfaen County Borough Council, Tai Calon Community Housing, Cartrefi Cymunedol Gwynedd, Newydd Housing Association, Cadwyn Housing Association, Hendre, Newport City Homes, First Choice Housing Association, Coastal Housing Group, Cardiff Council, Merthyr Tydfil Housing Association, Cymdeithas Tai Cantref, Bron Afon Community Housing and Bridgend County Borough Council. Am I being proportionate or not? Members must decide.

Y Cofnod

Tai Fforddiadwy

Affordable Housing

8. Keith Davies: A wnaiff y Gweinidog roi’r wybodaeth ddiweddaraf am gynlluniau Llywodraeth Cymru ar gyfer tai fforddiadwy. OAQ(4)0062(HRH)

8. Keith Davies: Will the Minister give an update on the Welsh Government’s plans for affordable housing. OAQ(4)0062(HRH)

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Huw Lewis: I thank the Member for Llanelli for that question. I am working with organisations across the housing sector to increase the number of affordable homes delivered with and without capital grant. Approaches include the Welsh housing partnership, which was announced recently, reducing the number of empty homes and using public land for affordable housing.

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Keith Davies: Diolch am yr ateb hwnnw, Weinidog. Yr wyf yn falch bod y rhaglen lywodraethu’n cynnwys nifer o strategaethau i gael mwy o dai fforddiadwy oherwydd, er enghraifft, yn sir Gâr yr wythnos hon, mae bron i 7,500 o bobl ar y gofrestr tai a dim ond 600 o dai sydd wedi’u dyrannu hyd yma eleni. Yr wyf yn sylweddoli bod pwysau ar y cyllid a bod lleihad yn y cyllid cyfalaf o San Steffan. A fyddech yn cytuno mai ffordd Llywodraeth Cymru yw’r ffordd orau o greu tai fforddiadwy yng Nghymru?

Keith Davies: Minister, thank you for that response. I am grateful that the programme for government includes a number of strategies to ensure that we have more affordable housing because, for example, in Carmarthenshire this week, there are almost 7,500 people on the housing register and only 600 homes have been allocated this year. I realise that there are pressures on funding and that there is a reduction in the capital funding from Westminster. Do you agree that the Welsh Government’s approach is the best way of creating affordable housing in Wales?

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Huw Lewis: I hope, and I am confident, that we can be leaders across the UK in terms of how we address this enormous challenge. It boils down to two words, very simply: land and capital. It is about innovative ways that we can find to get finance flowing. Capital investment in affordable housing is a major part of this, as is combining that with joint working between the Welsh Government and local government in terms of the release of public land. There are many initiatives under discussion at the moment and announcements will follow over the coming months to address those two issues in ways that have not been pursued by the Welsh Government before. We will face up to the difficulties and the necessities that are facing us in this difficult economic time.  

4.00 p.m.

Mohammad Asghar: Minister, as you will be aware, the 2011 Welsh Conservative manifesto included a commitment to create 10,000 new affordable homes in Wales by 2015. Prior to the summer recess, you said that you may set an affordable housing target, while earlier this month you said that you would publish targets for co-operative housing and other forms of affordable housing as your agenda unfolds. Given that this administration has been in place for nearly seven months, can you be clearer, Minister, concerning what targets you intend to put in place for affordable housing levels in Wales, and how ambitious you are going to be?

Huw Lewis: It really is becoming quite enough to make a cat laugh when you listen to the Conservative Party’s preaching on certain issues. Of all subjects, this week, we hear a question on the supply of social housing. The Welsh Conservatives’ colleagues in the UK Government have this week announced a bargain basement sell-off of precious social housing right across England in order to part-finance the announcement made by the Minister for Housing and Local Government, Grant Shapps, this week. I will announce a social housing target and this target will shame the UK Government in terms of our commitment to the least well off in our society and the per capita equivalent number of units that we will produce, and we will not embark on a further sell-off of precious social housing to rob Peter to pay Paul; that is, helping the slightly less poor by soaking the very poor.

Y Cofnod

Alun Ffred Jones: Yr oeddech yn dweud yn eich ateb cyntaf fod angen atebion hyblyg i’r broblem hon a bod mwy nag un ateb o safbwynt cynyddu nifer y tai fforddiadwy.  Yn eich ail ateb, sonioch eich bod yn bwriadu gosod targed. Pryd byddwch yn gwneud y cyhoeddiad hwnnw? O edrych ar y targed, a ydych chi a’ch swyddogion wedi gwneud asesiad o’r angen am dai fforddiadwy yng Nghymru? Os felly, a ydych yn fodlon rhannu’r ffigurau hynny gyda ni?

Alun Ffred Jones: You said in your initial reply that flexible responses were needed to this problem and that there was more than one solution for increasing the number of affordable homes. In your second reply, you said that you intended to set a target. When will you make that announcement? In looking at the target, have you and your officials assessed the need for affordable homes in Wales? If so, are you willing to share those figures with us?

Y Cofnod

Huw Lewis: I cannot share those figures with you today, but these targets will be set and they will be ambitious and realistic. I hope that the Member will understand that we have all been thrown into a very different world with regard to the availability of finance, the state of the economy, the attitude of lenders, and the attacks on the standard of living of the least well-off and those people we would seek to protect most during this economic downturn. All of that needs to be absorbed. All of the statistics need to be considered and the numbers need to be crunched. We need to understand, for example, the impact of the universal credit and the impact on different Welsh communities of the UK Government’s changes to housing benefit. This is not something that can be quantified in a few minutes; it takes time and work. However, we will work through those difficulties and will seek to understand them, quantify them and then produce targets against which the Government can be held to account.

Datganiad gan y Llywydd
Statement by the Presiding Officer

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The Presiding Officer: It is my pleasure to announce the result of the legislative ballot, which I held today. I am pleased to announce that Peter Black may seek the Assembly’s agreement to introduce a Member proposed Bill on park homes and Mohammad Asghar may seek the Assembly’s agreement to introduce a Member proposed Bill on enterprise.

Daeth y Dirprwy Lywydd (David Melding) i’r Gadair am 4.04 p.m.
The Deputy Presiding Officer (David Melding) took the Chair at 4.04 p.m.

Datganiad a Chyhoeddiad Busnes
Business Statement and Announcement

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The Minister for Finance and Leader of the House (Jane Hutt): I have one change to report to this week’s business. Later today, the Minister for Education and Skills will make a statement on higher education. Business for the next three weeks is as set out in the business statement and announcement, which can be found among the agenda papers that are available to Members electronically.

William Graham: I thank the Leader of the House for her statement. Would she consider making a statement on the Severn bridge tolls? The Minister will be well aware that they are to increase in January next year to £6 for a car, £12.10 for small goods vehicles and £18.10 for heavy goods vehicles and buses. Clearly, with the suggested enterprise zones in the Bristol area, this in itself will have a detrimental effect on businesses in south-east Wales, coupled with the suggestion from the Chancellor today that, even after the present tolls have ended, it may be possible to use money raised towards the financing of the M4 relief road. Could the Minister indicate what talks she has had with her opposite number at Westminster and whether we are likely to hear of some results?

Jane Hutt: I thank the regional Member for that question. Clearly, you are very disappointed that we are not having our tolls halved, like the Humber bridge tolls. I can confirm that, having looked at the statement and having heard the Chancellor myself, the UK Government is agreeing to engage with the Welsh Government on improvements to the M4 in south-east Wales. Indeed, there are correspondence, meetings and discussions, not only with the First Minister and the Prime Minister, but between my officials and the Minister for transport’s officials on this important project.

Alun Ffred Jones: It is well known, Minister, that the general policies of the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats at Westminster have proved to be pretty disastrous for the economy and for job prospects. The Chancellor’s statement today showed that the Government in London has at least moved to act on capital projects in a way that Plaid Cymru has been advocating for several months. I think that we need a debate in the Assembly on how this will affect Wales, to hear the Welsh Government’s proposed actions to make the best use of this opportunity.

Jane Hutt: I agree wholeheartedly with Alun Ffred Jones that the consequential coming to us for capital infrastructure from the UK Government is welcome. We understand that it is £260 million, building on the infrastructure and capital investment announcements that I have made as Minister for Finance over the past two weeks—there was the announcement of a £38.9 million stimulus and the £90 million announced last week. So, we look forward to taking this forward, and that will be a matter, I am sure, for wide discussion and debate.

Mick Antoniw: Minister, the other night, I witnessed the ultimate embarrassment and humiliation of Vince Cable announcing the most draconian set of employment reforms since the second world war. It involved the removal of all employment rights for companies with 10 people, the removal of redundancy rights and the introduction of protective meetings—that is, bullying meetings. This is going to cause damage to the good industrial relations that we have in Wales. Will the Welsh Government be making representations to the UK Government, advising it of the serious consequences of the road that it has gone down?

Jane Hutt: I agree with the Member for Pontypridd that Vince Cable looked extremely uncomfortable, but he is the UK Government Minister who was prepared to make those announcements. Also, in listening to the Chancellor today, I heard him talk about bringing forward simpler, quicker and clearer dismissal powers and processes, possibly unpicking TUPE regulations and a range of other issues, which will threaten employment rights. It is Brendan Barber, the TUC general secretary, that we in the Welsh Government would respect, especially on the point he makes that

'reducing protection for people at work will not save or create a single job. It’s not employment laws holding firms back, it’s the tough economic climate’.

Research from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development shows that there is no link between regulation and economic output: German employees have much more protection at work and their economy is the strongest in Europe.

William Powell: Minister, last week, we saw Sainsbury’s threatening to launch legal action against the Welsh Government with regard to the exemption from carrier bag charges for its competitor, the online supermarket Ocado. Given that this is a flagship policy for the Welsh Government, and one that we would sincerely like to see implemented effectively, will the Government please find time to update us on the implementation of the carrier bag levy, with particular regard to online supermarkets and food hygiene regulations?

Jane Hutt: I thank William Powell for that important question. Questions to the Minister this afternoon provided an opportunity for an update on the single-use carrier bag charge, which has, of course, been extremely successful; we have been very pleased with how retailers, as well as customers, have responded to it. We expect it to improve further over the coming months, as there have been significant reductions in the number of bags given out. It is important to wait for the first set of figures, which will be available from the retail sector at the end of May next year. I am sure that the Minister will want to update Members, as requested, in particular on issues such as the online supermarket issue.

Suzy Davies: Minister, I would be grateful if you would ask the Minister for Local Government and Communities to make a statement on community transport. The Community Transport Association has already expressed its concerns that plans are uncertain after 2012, in terms of funding and the scope for users—not just in rural areas but in more urban regions, such as my own. The possible changes to NHS services and where they are located will bring changing demands on where community transport is needed and by whom it will be used. I am sure that a statement by your Government would be welcome.

Jane Hutt: The national transport plan will be able to address the importance of community transport and our pioneering concessionary fares scheme. This is having an impact on easing pressures on those who not only use community transport but also other concessionary bus fare schemes. Those issues will come forth in the national transport plan.   

Angela Burns: Minister, I would be grateful if you would ask the Minster for Health and Social Services to bring forward a statement on the rules of engagement that she would like to see operated by health boards when they start their public consultation on the new service delivery plans. For example, Hywel Dda Local Health Board is about to go public with its plans in the next two weeks, starting an eight-week consultation period that will be gobbled up substantially by Christmas. It is important that we ask the public for their views on cherished hospitals. I would be grateful if you could make it clear to us what we should be expecting local health boards to do and the timescales to which they should be operating.

     

Jane Hutt: The Minister has made it clear in the Chamber and in committee that she expects a thorough consultation. It is not about rules of engagement; it is about full engagement and ensuring that all stakeholders and partners, including elected representatives, are fully aware of and engaged in that consultation process.

Mark Isherwood: I call for a statement on the Welsh Government’s involvement with the UK work programme. We hear much rhetoric in the Chamber, but at the beginning of the month at the Spotlight North Wales 2011 conference, sponsored by the JobFit partnership, one of the agencies delivering the work programme in Wales, we heard that the Welsh Government was fully engaged with this programme. It has a pivotal role in the partnership organisations delivering the UK work programme, described to the conference as one of the biggest welfare to work programmes that the UK has ever seen. This follows news that almost half the youngsters on the UK Government’s workplace programme, which allows unemployed young people to try out work without losing benefits, have found employment. It also follows the confirmation today in the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement that the £1 billion youth contract will fund incentives for companies to take on unemployed young people, and that it will also apply in Wales. Therefore, behind the rhetoric of attacking these issues, we now know that the Welsh Government is engaged. Members and the wider public deserve to know what form that engagement is taking.

  

Jane Hutt: I am sure that Mark Isherwood would also want to publicly congratulate the Welsh Government for introducing, through the programme for government and the draft budget, the £75 million investment in our 18 to 24-year-olds in a Jobs Growth Wales scheme, and doing so early after the election, in the budget and in ministerial statements. I am sure that he would also like to congratulate us for the fact that the UK Government has decided to follow our lead on a youth contract, announced last week. Clearly, we are leading the way. We anticipated that we would have to invest, and that is what we did with the £75 million. I am sure that Mark would also welcome the 1,800 more apprentices through the young recruits programme that I announced yesterday as part of our economic stimulus package.

4.15 p.m.

Datganiad: Addysg Uwch
Statement: Higher Education

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The Minister for Education and Skills (Leighton Andrews): For roughly a decade, reconfiguration of the sector and increased collaboration have been key elements in the strategy of successive Welsh Governments for higher education, from 'Reaching Higher’ in 2002 to 'For Our Future’ published in the autumn of 2009 by my predecessor during the One Wales Government.

It is my continuing aim to ensure that we establish a sustainable model for the Welsh higher education sector, one which is better able to deal with, for example, deficiencies in addressing areas of low participation, low skills and low aspiration; the failure to identify part-time and work-based provision as core activities; and the deficit in Wales’s research capacity in comparison to the UK.

In June 2010, I made a statement to the third Assembly coinciding with the publication of the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales’s corporate strategy for 2010-11 to 2012-13. I explained that the Cabinet of the One Wales Government had endorsed HEFCW’s plan, in which, by 2013, 75 per cent of HE institutions in Wales will have an annual income above the UK median, and none will be in the lower quartile. I said then that this target does not mean fewer students, but it is likely to mean fewer vice-chancellors.  

In December 2010, HEFCW subsequently determined that it believed that a higher education sector of six institutions was a sustainable size for Wales. In March of this year, I asked HEFCW to provide me with advice on the structure of the higher education sector in Wales.

 

The manifesto of the incoming Government in May committed us to a smaller number of stronger universities. In July, I published the advice that I received from HEFCW, set out in its report, 'The Future Shape of Higher Education in Wales’. All those with an interest in higher education have now had an opportunity to put forward written representations on HEFCW’s advice. I am pleased that we received nearly 400 responses, and I have given careful consideration to the issues that these raised in forming my initial response to HEFCW’s report.  

I have given careful consideration to HEFCW’s advice. I believe that, overall, HEFCW’s report makes a persuasive case for change. I reported my views to Cabinet, which approved my report. The Welsh Government has, therefore, accepted the overall thrust of HEFCW’s advice, with one or two exceptions.  

I have accepted HEFCW’s advice that Cardiff and Swansea universities should remain committed to securing their positions as research-intensive institutions. I expect these two institutions to continue collaborating with each other, particularly in areas where together they would be more effective, and to strengthen key research and teaching partnerships. In addition, I look to Swansea to develop further its collaborative work with its neighbours.

I have accepted HEFCW’s advice that Aberystwyth and Bangor universities should substantially widen and deepen their existing strategic partnership. However, I do not expect this partnership to progress to a formal merger at this stage.

HEFCW advised that Glyndŵr University should develop strong structural relationships with a range of further education colleges within a group structure led by Aberystwyth and Bangor universities. I have not accepted this advice. After considering the representations made, it appears to me that there is a case for considering more closely the existing pattern of HE provision in north-east Wales, and for examining further the options for securing greater regional coherence in the delivery of further and higher education. I shall make a further announcement on this in due course.

HEFCW advised that the University of Glamorgan, Cardiff Metropolitan University—as UWIC is now known—and the University of Wales, Newport should merge. HEFCW’s report presents a persuasive case for such a merger, which would provide an opportunity for the development of a strong, competitive post-1992 university in south-east Wales, and which would also build on the collaborative work established thus far with the Universities Heads of the Valleys Institute. It would provide an opportunity for these institutions to develop a model of provision across the region to deliver higher education more sustainably and coherently. As I told Cabinet, I am minded to accept this recommendation, subject to detailed consultation with the institutions concerned as to the establishment of a new metropolitan university for Glamorgan and Gwent, with campuses widely distributed, as at present, throughout the Valleys, Cardiff and Newport.

HEFCW advised that the University of Wales Trinity Saint David and Swansea Metropolitan University should merge as already planned, potentially, but not necessarily, also with the University of Wales. I accept this advice and welcome the moves already made by those institutions.

Finally, HEFCW advised that medicine should be considered as a 'special case’ subject and suggested that it might be appropriate to review the structure of medical education. I have considered this advice and accepted it, while noting the overall direction of travel, which is about strengthening partnerships and collaboration in developing an integrated all-Wales approach to medical education.

The initial period of public engagement on HEFCW’s report has now concluded. Before any final decision and dissolution order is made in relation to an individual higher education corporation, I will consult the institutions affected. That will provide an opportunity for those institutions to put forward evidence and raise any issues or concerns that they may wish to discuss. I anticipate that this period of consultation will begin early in the new year.

Wales needs universities with the capacity and critical mass to operate dynamically, effectively and efficiently, particularly in an era when the HE sector in other parts of the UK is undergoing radical change. I believe that, in responding to HEFCW’s advice as I have indicated, we will be moving much closer to this goal.

Angela Burns: The Welsh Conservatives recognise that higher education is changing and that we have to focus on outcomes. We need to concentrate not just on the undergraduate offering, but on the postgraduate offering and on research excellence. To that end, I understand why you have sought to analyse the higher education sector, Minister, in order to determine how our higher education institutions should deliver on providing robust outcomes and value for the Welsh pound. However, I am surprised that the resulting future structure of higher education in Wales seems to be more about numbers and targeting specific institutions than about outcomes for learners and skills for the country.

I would like to run through your statement bit by bit, if I may. Minister, I am curious to know why you have rejected some of the advice, which, incidentally, is advice that I support, such as not merging the three universities in the north-east and north-west, when, in fact, it was your department that urged HEFCW to build on the document that it had prepared initially and asked it to play up the positive advantages of restructuring. However, you have turned around and said 'no’ on a couple of key points.

I agree with your views on both Cardiff and Swansea universities. It is imperative for Wales that we develop research excellence, and those two universities are best positioned to drive that forward. I would like to understand better, however, why you have rejected HEFCW’s advice on Aberystwyth and Bangor, and, of course, on Glyndŵr. I would like to pay tribute to Ken Skates, Sandy Mewies, Ann Jones and the Labour MPs who ran an excellent campaign to keep that university as it is. However, as you said in your statement that you will keep it at present and will make a further announcement in due course, what will influence you and why did you decide not to follow through that advice from HEFCW?

I noted that you have accepted the advice on University of Wales Trinity Saint David and Swansea Metropolitan University. Can you give us a brief indication as to whether or not you intend to keep the University of Wales name for that brand or whether you will encourage those institutions to go elsewhere, Minister?

I have left until last the difficult one, which is the proposed merger between the University of Glamorgan, the University of Wales, Newport and what is now Cardiff Metropolitan University. Minister, you talk of mergers, but I wonder whether a merger, for example, will enable the open and transparent recruitment of staff and governors. I am concerned by the words that you have used—you used the word 'dissolution’, which is a very strong word. I understand that only one higher education institution has been dissolved before. That is a very strong stance to take on both Newport university and Cardiff Metropolitan University, both of which have made it crystal clear that they do not want an enforced merger. For my part, Minister, I have to say that the Welsh Conservatives support collaboration and mergers to make the best use of resources and to ensure high-quality education. However, we do not believe that mergers should be compelled. Surely, if the educational provision is of paramount importance, education should not be jeopardised by a forced merger. We are concerned that forced mergers would have a negative impact on the relationships between institutions and between the higher education sector and the Minister for education and his department. We believe that, for the future of higher education, it is imperative that there are good working relationships between all elements. We are concerned that the uncertainty that you announce by talking of merger and dissolution—which implies a formal forcing of a merger—will have a negative impact on applications to those universities. We are also concerned about the cost and upheaval at this financially-constrained time that forced mergers will mean. I am sure that these institutions will go for legal advice and will want to talk it through with you. Minister, what assumptions have you made with regard to the possible costs of an enforced merger?

I do not agree with HEFCW that we should not be concerned with short-term considerations about financial stability. I appreciate that our strategic vision is very important, but we must ensure that, in the drive to reform the higher education sector in Wales, we do not drive any of the universities into financially difficult waters. There is an awful lot more to say on this and I am conscious that I cannot ask about it all because this is just a statement, but I would be most grateful if you could answer some of those questions and I would like to have the opportunity to return to this subject again, because it is of such importance to Wales.

Leighton Andrews: It has been the objective of successive Welsh Governments, as I said in my statement, to seek greater collaboration in the higher education sector and reconfiguration of the sector. That policy of seeking reconfiguration has enjoyed all-party support in the Assembly over the last decade. I remind the spokesperson for the opposition of the various reports by a number of committees in the Assembly, including, not least, the former Audit Committee, now the Public Accounts Committee, which looked at the whole policy of reconfiguration and concluded that further steps needed to be taken to ensure that we developed a genuinely Welsh higher-education sector in Wales. Work has been done by the former Audit Committee and the Wales Audit Office on the cost of abortive mergers and some of the less successful attempts at reconfiguration in the past. This is not a new policy, but it is a determined policy, and it comes with the backing of a manifesto commitment of the incoming Government, which was endorsed in the May election. It is a policy that has been shared widely across the Assembly over the last decade, and I outlined in my statement a series of steps, during my time as Minister for education, that have been taken with the support of other parties to take this agenda forward. We know that Wales does not perform as it should in terms of its achievements in respect of funding from Research Councils UK, for example. I met Research Councils UK recently and it confirmed its support for our agenda of increasing collaboration across HE institutions to win greater research funding. With regard to the advice from HEFCW, I published that advice and a consultation exercise took place. There were significant opportunities for people in the sector and throughout Wales to comment on the stakeholder engagement exercise. I came to the view that it was essential, for example, to see greater collaboration between Aberystwyth and Bangor, but some of the geographical issues affecting Aberystwyth University, Bangor University and Glyndŵr University in north-east Wales raised significant problems.

4.30 p.m.

However, I do have issues about the way in which higher education serves north-east Wales, and that is why I intend to undertake a further review of the provision there. I also have views about the provision of post-1992 institutional support in north-west Wales, which is something I suspect we will return to. In respect of the institutions in south-west Wales, the developments there are progressive, including developments with the University of Wales. What happens ultimately to the title of the University of Wales is a matter for those institutions. In respect of south-east Wales, we have seen attempts in the past to achieve a stronger metropolitan university there. There have been a number of ways in which different institutions have sought to engage with that agenda, but we as a Government are clear in our targets and objectives, and we were clear in our manifesto when we went to the electorate in May of this year.

I would remind the opposition spokesperson that, when I made my statement in this Chamber in June of last year, it was broadly welcomed by all parties. That statement outlined the then One Wales Government’s support for the corporate strategy of HEFCW, which related to the objective of 75 per cent of higher education institutions being at or above the median UK size by 2013. That remains our policy, and we remain committed to implementing it. We have the powers under the 1988 Act to dissolve higher education corporations in certain circumstances. I have outlined in the statement how we intend to progress with those discussions in south-east Wales, and I do not intend to add further to that today.

David Rees: Minister, before I start, I must put on record the fact that my former employer is Swansea Metropolitan University, and I have many friends and former colleagues there. I welcome your statement, particularly the point about the importance of research at Swansea University, which I hope will encourage the development of a second campus in my constituency. I have some questions that I wish to ask you, and I will begin with one that I have mentioned before. The mission statement of any individual institution should be included in that of any merged institution, so that the students who are provided for will continue to be provided for, and the courses that are offered will continue to be offered. I am concerned that this might be seen as an opportunity to cut courses for non-educational reasons, which is important. Staffing levels must also be maintained, and the governance situation of individual institutions should also be reflected in any merger. Clearly, it is important that we have representatives of both staff and students from existing institutions in any governing body of a merged institution.

I will add one other point. You said in your statement that there has been a reduction of vice-chancellors, but we are seeing the creation of rectors, provosts or even presidents. I hope that you will ensure that these are short-term posts, because they take away resources from the students.

Part-time provision is clearly part of your concept. On that, it is important that these institutions continue to provide work-related and part-time provision under any merger.

Leighton Andrews: Yes, and it is worth saying at this point that we are well aware that, over the next few years, the financial situation facing higher education institutions in Wales, England, Scotland and Northern Ireland will be uncertain. The nature of the marketisation introduced by the UK Government into the higher education sector over recent years means that, even now, there are factors that we will not understand until the new fee regime has come into place. Therefore it is essential that we have financially robust institutions, which is another reason underpinning our approach to reconfiguration. My colleague the Member for Aberavon rightly raised the issue of the mission of individual institutions, and we would want to ensure that, in any merger situation, the respective missions of particular institutions are supported and consolidated. We would also recognise the achievements that have been made by many institutions in Wales in encouraging learners from non-traditional backgrounds and, indeed, as he rightly said, in the development of part-time education. One thing that we witnessed in Wales, as well as across the UK as a whole, is the extraordinary expansion of the Open University as a partner in the provision of higher education.

The Member raised the issue of the titles of the members of senior management, which he has brought before the Chamber before now. There is nothing like the full glare of publicity on senior management positions that are adopted in higher education for people in the wider public sphere to understand precisely what is going on. The report that we commissioned on the cost of administering education in Wales, which was carried out for us by PricewaterhouseCoopers, indicated some of the tensions that exist within the higher education sector in Wales.

You will be familiar, given that you raised the issue of governance, with the McCormick review of governance in higher education. We will obviously be consulting on that in the context of the higher education Bill. I note the issues that he has raised in respect of staff and student representation, and those things will be taken forward as we move that agenda on.

Simon Thomas: The Minister has made much of the fact that the Labour Party won the election—which it certainly did—however, it did not win a majority of votes or of seats in this Chamber. I therefore sense, from the Minister’s response to the consultation, the foot being eased off the pedal of forced mergers a little. To that degree, I welcome the Minister’s statement today. What is important for Plaid Cymru is that we see an improvement in our higher education system and sector as regards achievement, graduate employment and research opportunities in universities and within the sector in Wales. That is the most important thing that we want to concentrate on. We will measure some of the changes that the Minister set out today against those standards, rather than any artificial numbers or figures.

Having said that, I want to welcome what the Minister has said regarding the continuation of the emphasis on research at both Swansea and Cardiff universities. The HEFCW advice that he received said clearly that Cardiff should become the research university for Wales and should be recognised as one of the top 100 or 50—I cannot remember the exact figure off the top of my head. What does he have to say in response to that part of the HEFCW advice? What proposals does he have to support that ambition, or has he changed that slightly to look at both Cardiff and Swansea together?

I welcome what he had to say about Aberystwyth and Bangor universities. Both universities are working hard together in several strategic research partnerships and are achieving some excellence in that regard. A forced merger at this stage over such a strange geography would derail them from the task. What we should really measure Bangor and Aberystwyth on now is whether they succeed in improving their postgraduate research and their postgraduate recruitment and retention. Neither university has a particularly good story to tell in some aspects of that area, and I am sure that both would want to improve given the opportunity that they now have. It is also interesting to note that research councils look favourably on collaborative research between institutions. The setting up of research groups between Bangor and Aberystwyth has enabled them to open the door to further research council sources of funding, which, strangely and curiously, a merger would not allow them to achieve. There is a perverse incentive in that regard.

Turning to north-east Wales, I welcome what the Minister had to say about Glyndŵr University. There is a clear need for a HE presence in the north-east, as part of the delivery of HE throughout Wales. There are also developments in FE in north-east between, for example, Coleg Llandrillo Cymru and Bangor, which needs to be examined as part of the consideration of the future of Glyndŵr University. I therefore reserve judgment, as the Minister himself does in his statement, as regards any future announcements on that.

It is, however, important to say in this regard that, although Plaid Cymru has all along supported the reconfiguration of the HE sector, and given that we have seen the HE sector respond to the challenges of previous Governments through reconfiguring itself, we have always wanted to do that in a voluntary and organic way, by having the right incentives in place and by getting rid of perverse incentives not to merge on occasions. However, we have never sought to force through any mergers. That is why we view the proposal in the south-east with some caution. The case has not yet been made for the large institution that the Minister would like to see in the south-east. It would be good to see the institutions there leave their egos behind and work together to achieve such a merger. I agree with that. However, at the moment, that is not the situation, and we are faced with the possibility of forcing such a merger through. I am not convinced that he should take that option at the moment.

I have a couple of questions for the Minister about that option, as he is minded to take it. In the statement, he talks about a dissolution Order being made. Can he clarify whether he intends to dissolve all three institutions and then form a new metropolitan university, or will he, for example, keep Glamorgan, dissolve the other two, and allow Glamorgan to take over the other two? These sorts of questions could make a great deal of difference to the institutions concerned and to their attitude towards any possible mergers. He talks about campuses being widely distributed, as at present. Can he confirm that by that he means keeping every campus open? He will know that UWIC’s student newspaper claims to reveal secret plans by Glamorgan to close both the Caerleon and Cyncoed campuses. Will he confirm that his Government would like to see all campuses kept open if there was this new super metropolitan university for Glamorgan and Gwent?

He also mentioned the mergers in the south-west, which I support. They are voluntary merges, and we would like to see those go ahead. He also refers to a merger with the University of Wales as 'potentially, but not necessarily also’. Can he clarify that? Does that mean that he will support the University of Wales going into University of Wales Trinity Saint David? I welcome what he said, and what HEFCW advised, on the future of training and medicine in Wales. In particular, there is an opportunity for north Wales and Bangor to take a role in medical training. I put it to him that that is one step that could be usefully pursued. I hope that he will give his support to that.

Finally, I ask him, or rather challenge him, in a sense, to ensure that every step he takes from now on is designed to increase the access of our poorest students to our higher education institutions, to ensure that our HE institutions offer the best undergraduate experience and undergraduate employment opportunities, and that he sets himself the real job of ensuring that the advice and aim within the 'HEFCW Corporate Strategy’ of improving the research capabilities of Welsh universities really is delivered. We have talked about this for 10 years in this institution; it is time that we saw our research capabilities at higher education improve in Wales.

Leighton Andrews: I will start with the final comments of the Member. The issues he raised about encouraging participation from the poorest members of the community, improving the quality of the student experience and improving research performance were, of course, all objectives of the 'For Our Future’ strategy, published by my predecessor Jane Hutt during the One Wales Government. I am glad that the Member reinforces the agenda of 'For Our Future’. That is our strategy and we continue to implement it. There is no change there. In respect of the development of research, I am clear from my conversations with the research councils, and from my meeting with the chief scientific adviser and others, that there is much that we can do to strengthen collaboration and performance, and strengthen the amount of research money coming to Wales.

I will set out further objectives in respect of specific institutions and their research needs in the remit letter to HEFCW. Therefore, I will not be going into detail today on the relative merits of particular institutions and their performance. It is important that all Members refrain from becoming cheerleaders for this or that institution in higher education. All of them are capable of mounting persuasive and plausible cases; the issue for us, as Government, has to be the overall contribution to Wales, its economy, its society, its culture and so on.

 

4.45 p.m.

In respect of what has been said in the statement on the University of Wales, the Member referred to the phrase, 'potentially, but not necessarily’. That was from the original HEFCW advice that I was quoting, and clearly, events have moved along, and the University of Wales will become part of that merger in the south-west, and I have made previous statements in respect of the University of Wales. I do not have anything further to add to those. When I made my statement on behalf of the One Wales Government in June last year, the Member was an advisor to that Government, and I am sure that he has not moved away from the policies that it adopted at the time, because I certainly have not in this regard. I am simply continuing to implement that policy in respect of higher education that I outlined in this Chamber in June 2010, which has been subsequently endorsed by the people of Wales in the manifesto to which I referred earlier.

We will look carefully with the three institutions in south-east Wales at the nature of a merged metropolitan university and a new university, as I described it, for Glamorgan and Gwent. When I made my statement in June last year, I said that this should not result in fewer students or fewer campuses, but it would probably mean fewer vice-chancellors. That remains our objective. We want to see widely dispersed campuses, as I said in the statement, as they are at present, throughout the Valleys, Cardiff and Newport.

Aled Roberts: Minister, I also thank you for your statement. I am sure that all parties in the Assembly share your aims. There is certainly nothing in the first few paragraphs with which any of us would disagree in terms of low participation, low aspiration and the deficit in research capacity. The difficulty that some of us have is the detail of the HEFCW proposals. Of course, this afternoon, you have not accepted all the proposals that were put forward. Some of us do have difficulty in understanding how institutions will move to a one-size-fits-all arrangement, as far as Wales is concerned—HEFCW certainly invited you to do that on the basis of one research-based institution and one new institution in each of the regions that it set out. I would be interested to know how supportive the 400 representations that you received to HEFCW’s original recommendations were.

We have no difficulty in supporting increased collaboration and, in fact, mergers, provided that there is an evidence base for that way forward. From all the documentation that I have read, there appears to be very little evidence to support some of the proposals that were put forward. On the figure of 75 per cent of UK mean income, there is no evidence base as far as I can see to establish how Welsh higher education institutions would be more sustainable as a result of that way forward. I am pleased that it would appear that you have accepted that Bangor and Aberystwyth, in particular, are moving forward with the greater degree of collaboration that Simon Thomas referred to in their research areas, and that you have clearly indicated that you do not, at the moment, see that there is a need for those institutions to go towards full merger.

I congratulate you on the stance that you have taken with regard to the north east, because it is clear that there was little support from any of the parties for HEFCW’s original proposals with regard to Glyndŵr University. With regard to the further review of the situation in north-east Wales, what do you perceive as being the main elements that will inform your decision with regard to any way forward? Simon Thomas referred to the collaboration between Llandrillo and Bangor, and you will be aware that there are currently strategic business cases being prepared between Deeside College and Yale College. Is there any scope for the involvement of Glyndŵr to be included in that scoping document? It would seem rather nonsensical, if you were minded to look at further collaboration between the HE and FE sectors in north-east Wales, to be faced with a situation where a new entity is created in the FE sector, but, some six or 12 months later, to have further developments involving Glyndŵr University.

Finally, it would appear that many of the union responses to the documentation may have been supportive, but in many instances, they were dependent on there being assurances with regard to no compulsory redundancies in the university sector. Is the statement that you have outlined today predicated on the basis that there will be no compulsory redundancies in the sector?

Leighton Andrews: I have a few comments on the contribution of the Liberal Democrats’ spokesperson. I think that he is the first person in the Chamber in the last 18 months to question the issue of the 75 per cent median—not mean—income as being the baseline for sustainability of Welsh higher education institutions. Certainly, when I outlined that in the Chamber in June 2010, I do not recall much disagreement around that, and there has not been much disagreement expressed to me subsequently. There are a lot of issues that I could mention with regard to the sustainability of Welsh higher education institutions. The situation is going to become that much more uncertain for all higher education institutions in the UK as a result of decisions that have been taken by the UK Government with regard to the new market in higher education and the decisions to go for full-cost fees.

There is uncertainty throughout the sector. We are trying to ensure that we plan our higher education system in Wales, as I have said before in the Chamber on a number of occasions, rather than leave it to the market. That means that we look to using all the instruments available to us, including the powers that we have under the 1988 Act for dissolution as a last resort, if we are to ensure that we have a coherently planned and sustainable sector. There is a body of evidence over the last decade in support of the reconfiguration and collaboration agenda in Wales, as evidenced by reports from committee after committee in the Assembly. I reject entirely the idea that there is little evidence to support that policy.

In respect of north-east Wales, I will come forward with a further announcement in due course as to how we intend to review the provision of higher education. That will relate as well to how higher education sits alongside further education in north-east Wales. That would be one of the subjects that I would expect us to review in due course.

In respect of the issue that he raised about the question of no compulsory redundancies in higher education, I have to say, I am afraid, that on the day that his Government in London has outlined proposals to undermine employment legislation, I am not going to be taking any lectures from the Liberal Democrats’ spokesperson on employment law. [Interruption.]

The Deputy Presiding Officer: Order. We are out of time for this item, but, given its importance, I am keen to call three more Members. However, I will limit you each to one minute, so please be succinct and focused.

Kenneth Skates: Thank you, Minister, for an outstanding statement today. After last week’s announcement on the extension of the area of outstanding natural beauty and this today, the people of north-east Wales need no greater proof that their interests are at the heart of this Labour Government.

I was going to keep it brief anyway, but I will quickly head to the brief questions that I have regarding today’s announcement. It is essential for north-east Wales, which is one of the most economically productive areas of Wales, that we have a university allied to the manufacturing and economic needs of the region. What assurances can you give that this will be at the heart of Glyndŵr University’s future structure?

Secondly, one key question in the original HEFCW report was about the inconsistency in some of the arguments used to justify the recommendations. For example, there was no explanation relating to the scale chosen for each of the regions or acknowledgement of the natural communities that universities serve. Similarly, the geographic challenges of reform were underplayed. Will this be different moving forward?

Leighton Andrews: I thank the Member for Clwyd South for his comments. In reviewing the provision of higher education in north-east Wales, we will seek to ensure that we have a higher education system that is capable of delivering in the round for the people, the economy and the society of north-east Wales. That means that we need to look at the deficiencies in the current provision of higher education in north-east Wales, as well as the advantages of current provision.

Mark Isherwood: Referring to north Wales, Aberystwyth and Bangor are already developing a strategic partnership. You do not expect that to progress to a formal merger at this stage, although you remind us that you have such powers to use as a last resort. Can you honestly envisage either of those universities reaching a position where they would need that intervention as a last resort, unless funding is withheld from them because of decisions taken here?

In terms of north-east Wales, you are examining further options. Given that the Glyndŵr University friends group was chaired by the chair of Redrow, that the campaign to maintain the independence of the university has been supported by all the major local industries and employers, and that the friends group said that the HEFCW proposals would have had a detrimental effect on both Glyndŵr and the wider economy of north Wales, will you make a commitment to consult business and industry in the region to determine the content of your statements? Will you be minded to consider what you heard when you attended the drawing up of the memorandum of understanding between Glyndŵr and Yale College early last year?

Leighton Andrews: I have great confidence in the new leadership of Bangor and Aberystwyth universities and in the efforts that have been made there to strengthen the research base of both institutions. In case my statement is misinterpreted, let me say that I also had great confidence in the previous leaders. Both institutions have been seeking to deepen their collaboration, and that is important.

In respect of north-east Wales, it is, of course, important that we have institutions that are capable of engaging with local employers. It is important that we have institutions that are capable of engaging with the anchor companies in Wales, and that has been an objective of our economic development strategies as well as our higher education policies. Certainly, what I would envisage in any review of provision in north-east Wales is that we will be looking to strengthen the contribution higher education makes to the region. That will mean that we have to look at some of the deficiencies as well as the advantages.

Jenny Rathbone: I am afraid that I cannot quite share the enthusiasm of the Member for Clwyd South, but I am looking at it from the other end of the telescope. There are three universities in Cardiff Central, and two of them are affected by the suggested merger between the University of Glamorgan, the University of Wales, Newport, and Cardiff Metropolitan University. It does not really meet the test of businesses that need to be dynamic, innovative and have an international perspective. All businesses need to do that. Above all, in the very difficult climate they now face, universities need to do that. Above all, they need to be focused on the student experience. I fail to understand how having a campus of 43,000 students, which is the largest in the UK of any campus-based university, across nine campuses is really going to deliver that student experience. I have had many representations from students at Cardiff Metropolitan University and they are particularly concerned about what it would mean for the distinctiveness of that university, which has really established a niche market in certain areas, something that is reflected in the number of international students it now has, following an increase of, I think, nearly 400 per cent in the last five years. Therefore, I urge the Minister to look again, because I do not think that it meets the test of being dynamic, effective and efficient.

Leighton Andrews: I have to disagree with my colleague the Member for Cardiff Central in that case, I am afraid. The proposals that we have put forward have come about through extensive discussion, and we will carry on the discussion with individual institutions. Great strides have been made by a number of institutions. The international expansion of each of the three institutions in south-east Wales—Cardiff Metropolitan University, the University of Wales, Newport, and the University of Glamorgan—has been very significant, and I have seen innovative and creative work being undertaken in each of the institutions. I would counsel any Member in this Chamber against becoming a lobbyist for any particular institution. I do not think that is where we should be in this institution. We need to ensure that we are representing the wider interests of our communities and the interests of the Welsh public and, overall, the interests of the Welsh economy and society. That is what we are seeking to do with our higher education policy here. Finally, I have to say to the Member that it was very clear what we intended to do in the manifesto on which we were elected.

5.00 p.m.

The Deputy Presiding Officer: Thank you, Minister.


Datganiad: Cyflwyno Bil Is-ddeddfau Llywodraeth Leol (Cymru)
Statement: Introduction of the Local Government Byelaws (Wales) Bill

Y Cofnod

The Minister for Local Government and Communities (Carl Sargeant): Yesterday, I laid the Local Government Byelaws (Wales) Bill, together with an explanatory memorandum, before the National Assembly for Wales. I also issued a written statement and I am pleased to introduce the Bill for Assembly Members’ consideration today.

The Bill addresses our commitment to consider and consult on potential changes to simplify the process for making local government bye-laws in Wales, which was contained in the 2007 local government policy statement, 'A Shared Responsibility’. Consultation in 2010 demonstrated positive support for simplification of the bye-law process by removing the requirement for confirmation by Welsh Ministers and introducing fixed penalty notices as a more effective alternative to enforcement through the magistrates courts. The Bill makes provision for, and in connection with, the powers of county councils, county borough councils, community councils and other public bodies to make and revoke bye-laws, the procedure for making, confirming and coming into force of such bye-laws and their enforcement. This is the first Bill to be introduced since the National Assembly for Wales obtained greater legislative competence as a result of the 2011 referendum, which was a historic day. The Bill consolidates and modifies, where appropriate, existing bye-law-making provisions from the Local Government Act 1972. This makes the key legislative provisions for making and enforcing bye-laws more accessible and begins the process of developing a Welsh statute book.  

The provisions contained in the Bill can be grouped into a number of key areas. First, the Bill consolidates the widely used power in section 235 of the 1972 Act, which enables county and county borough councils to make bye-laws for the good rule and government of their areas and for the prevention and suppression of nuisances. For example, this power may typically be used to prohibit dangerous or nuisance skateboarding or ball games near a highway.

Secondly, the Bill recasts, in part, section 236B of the 1972 Act. It provides a power for a relevant authority to revoke or amend bye-laws where no other power to do so exists. It also provides a power for Welsh Ministers to revoke obsolete bye-laws, where this proves necessary.

Thirdly, the Bill sets out procedures for making bye-laws, which are at the heart of this Bill. It contains an alternative procedure for the making and coming into force of those bye-laws that no longer require confirmation by Welsh Ministers. Bye-laws are local laws that seek to address local issues. We believe that local government is best placed to take responsibility for making the majority of bye-laws without input from Welsh Ministers. We expect local authorities to consult with local people and to consider their views carefully before introducing bye-laws. Where confirmation by Welsh Ministers is required, consultation is regarded as essential good practice and a precursor to confirmation. In the alternative procedure, Welsh Government scrutiny is replaced by accountability and scrutiny at a local level and the Bill provides for thorough consultation at an early stage of the process. I recognise that some bye-laws, such as those for sites of special scientific interest and national parks, can be controversial and there is merit in retaining the confirmation procedure. This engages the Welsh Government in the resolution of possible objections before a bye-law is confirmed.  

Fourthly, the Bill recasts the existing enforcement provisions of the 1972 Act and updates the scale of fines payable by using the guidelines provided by the Criminal Justice Act 1982. The Bill also introduces fixed penalty notices as an alternative to enforcement through the magistrates courts. Fixed penalty notices offer an efficient and effective enforcement procedure and bring the enforcement of bye-laws onto the same footing as the enforcement of other low-level nuisance activities. Fixed penalty notices are an optional method of enforcement under the Bill and enforcement in the magistrates courts may still be used.

The Bill contains two schedules. Part 1 of Schedule 1 lists those bye-law-making powers that are subject to the alternative procedure and Part 2 of Schedule 1 lists those enactments under which bye-laws may be enforced by means of fixed penalties. Welsh Ministers have powers to amend the bye-laws specified in Schedule 1 through subordinate legislation. This will enable Welsh Ministers to respond effectively when the need for change arises. The exercise of these powers is subject to the prior approval of the National Assembly for Wales, thus ensuring that there is an appropriate mechanism for full scrutiny. Schedule 2 to the Bill details minor and consequential amendments to the other enactments that contain bye-law-making provisions.

Members will be pleased to note that this is a transparent piece of legislation, which has very little recourse to secondary legislation. Where subordinate powers and statutory guidance provisions are specified, it is to facilitate flexibility, clarity and detail that would not be appropriate on the face of the Bill. The Bill supports the Welsh Government’s wider aims for simplification and the reduction of bureaucracy. The dual system for the making and enforcement of bye-laws will facilitate a more timely and direct response by local government to local problems. The Bill also recognises the value of the principle of subsidiarity with the aim that democracy at a local level will be enhanced and the capacity of local government to serve its citizens will be improved. To conclude, I look forward to working with Assembly Members and others with an interest in local laws in scrutinising the Bill over the coming months.  

Janet Finch-Saunders: Minister, I welcome the statement that you have made today. It is fair to say that Members on this side of the Chamber certainly embrace any approaches that the Welsh Government makes regarding empowering local authorities and instituting true devolution, putting power back in the hands of local authorities. I have some questions on a few points that I would like you to clarify. However, over the next few months, I look forward to working with you as this goes through the scrutiny process.

I would like to ask you about the wording of section 5(1) of the proposed Bill, which states that Welsh Ministers may, by Order, revoke any bye-law made by a legislating authority that they think is obsolete. I will be looking for clarification regarding the way in which you will decide which bye-laws are obsolete.

I embrace the fact that you are now placing upon local authorities the responsibility for holding consultation with local residents. As is the case with statements and strategies presented by the Welsh Government, the way in which we engage with local communities is important. This first Bill will be a good way of testing how that works.

Minister, I welcome the statement. I look forward to receiving the Bill as it starts to come through and I look forward to working with you as we scrutinise it.

Carl Sargeant: I thank the Member for her comments and, of course, I look forward to working with the committee to take this forward. In terms of the powers of Welsh Ministers to revoke laws, this is not a new thing. This has happened and is a consideration in the discussions happening beyond the Chamber in relation to some of the Orders that are currently in place within local authorities. We are seeking to devolve functions to local authorities with regard to bye-laws and I welcome the Member’s comments regarding taking this forward. Bye-laws are an effective and useful method for dealing with local issues, which we believe should be dealt with locally by local authorities.

Mike Hedges: I also welcome this. I believe that it is important to use bye-laws to deal with local problems. As the leader of Swansea Council, I took through two bye-laws: one dealt with on-street drinking in the city centre and the other was an attempt to stop skateboarding in Castle Square. The first was successful and achieved what it was designed to achieve; the other, relating to skateboarding in Castle Square, has unfortunately not been successful. I remember the difficulties that we faced while going through the process, and I am sure that Julie James, who was the council officer responsible for this work, could outline the problems in greater detail. However, I really welcome anything that makes the system less bureaucratic and less complicated.

I have three questions. If it is going to be simplified, I think that that is very good. Talking about fixed penalties, will a fixed penalty tariff be in existence for use in this way? I believe that it can work, but who will implement it; will it be done by the police, or not, if it concerns skateboarding in the city centre—or will it be possible to decriminalise it so that it can be dealt with by such people as local authority traffic wardens? Also, I am in favour of the idea of reviewing out-of-date ones, because that would deal with one of the objections that people have to bringing one forward, in that they might think, 'We’ve got it forever, and it might not be needed anymore’. Do you intend to include a review on a regular basis of those that are out of date? Do you expect people to contact you to tell you which ones are out of date, or will you take a proactive approach to it?

Carl Sargeant: I thank Mike Hedges for his contribution: I am quite keen to see the Welsh Labour skateboarding team in action—or should I say the anti-skateboarding team? He nonetheless raises a very important point in terms of the local issues that many Members with constituencies will face on a day-to-day basis.

The issue of simplification is the key to this. Of course, there is not a huge cost saving in this programme directly related to this Bill, but there will be cost savings in time for councils and authorities that chase people who skateboard in what have been deemed inappropriate areas, where taking them through the courts is a huge problem.

With regard to the powers to issue fines, and thereby not have to take the matter to the magistrates court, this will be an option that will enhance the whole process, making it quicker and often much more effective, as giving people a direct fine usually helps them to see the light of day.

As for who delivers this, it will be delivered through local authorities, of course, but the function of delivering fixed penalty notices can be given, subject to the chief constable’s approval, through the police community support officers who patrol our communities. I know that you welcome the introduction of 500 more PCSOs as a Welsh Labour commitment in Wales.

Y Cofnod

Rhodri Glyn Thomas: Ar ran Plaid Cymru, croesawaf innau’r datganiad hwn. Yr oeddwn ar ddweud nad oedd dim byd yn y datganiad a fyddai wedi galluogi hyd yn oed Ken Skates i gynhyrfu mewn ymateb, ond mae’n amlwg bod Mike Hedges wedi cynhyrfu’n lân â’r datganiad. Mewn gwirionedd, mae’r datganiad yn mynd ati i gymhwyso’r sefyllfa ac edrych ar bwy fyddai orau i ddelio â’r is-ddeddfau hyn. Cymeradwyaf y Gweinidog am wneud hynny.

Rhodri Glyn Thomas: On behalf of Plaid Cymru, I welcome this statement. I was about to say that there was nothing in it that would excite even Ken Skates in response, but it is clear that it has greatly excited Mike Hedges. In truth, the statement sets about introducing competencies and looks at who would be best placed to deal with these bye-laws. I applaud the Minister for that.

Yr wyf hefyd yn diolch iddo am y cyfarfod anffurfiol a gawsom gydag ef a’i swyddogion—yr oedd yn ddefnyddiol iawn o ran ein galluogi i ddeall beth yn union oedd y tu ôl i hyn.

I also thank him for the informal meeting that we had with him and his officials—it was very useful in allowing us to understand what exactly is behind this.

Yr unig gwestiwn sydd gennyf, Weinidog, yw: a oes egwyddor sylfaenol a fydd yn gwahaniaethu rhwng pa is-ddeddfau sy’n cael eu datganoli i awdurdodau lleol a pha rai a gedwir yn ganolog gan y Llywodraeth, ynteu a ydych am edrych ar bob un darn o is-ddeddfwriaeth yn ei oleuni ei hun?

The only question that I have, Minister, is this: is there a fundamental principle that will be used to differentiate between bye-laws devolved to local authorities and those retained centrally by the Government, or will you consider every bye-law on its merits?

Y Cofnod

Carl Sargeant: I thank the Member for his contribution. The important scrutiny of this process is key in ensuring that we make good laws in Wales. In terms of the listings that will be subject to this, they are included in the Bill. There are perhaps too many to mention today, but they are available; if you do not have a copy, I will ensure that a copy is published and held in the Library. Examples include section 68 of the Town Police Clauses Act 1847, which is to do with hackney carriages and includes the conduct of drivers and proprietors, and the regulation of public walks and pleasure grounds under the Public Health Act 1875. There is a variety of clauses and bye-laws, under which we are seeking to transfer powers to local authorities. Of course, there are also elements, as I mentioned earlier, which we believe should have some protection in terms of ministerial intervention around the protection of nature reserves and preservation orders and so on, should such a bye-law be introduced in that process. I am happy for you to have a full copy of those. If I may just add something, Deputy Presiding Officer, I missed out responding to an important point made by the previous Member on fixed penalty notices. The Bill includes a default payment of £75 in terms of a fixed penalty notice, but that is, of course, subject to change should an amendment be sought in the process of the scrutiny of the Bill.

5.15 p.m.

Peter Black: I welcome this first piece of legislation under our new powers following the referendum. It is a good example of subsidiarity in practice. It is crucial that we carry on the devolution process and devolve powers down to local authorities as best we can. I welcome the fact that the Minister has taken this approach, because this is overdue in terms of the need to review existing bye-laws and to introduce modern bye-laws that deal with more of the modern problems that face local authorities. I was at a public meeting only the other night about parking around the Liberty Stadium. An officer raised the point that a bye-law could assist the council in regulating parking in the area. I am sure that there are other examples of that happening.

Minister, I am not going to scrutinise this Bill in detail at this stage, because that would not be appropriate. The only issue that I want to raise with you is about the cross-border implementation and enforcement of bye-laws. Bye-laws passed in one authority can sometimes affect other authorities. There is a particular issue about what would happen where a bye-law in a Welsh authority has an impact on a neighbouring English authority. I would be grateful if you could look at that when you bring the Bill before us.  

  

Carl Sargeant: I thank the Member for raising those issues. Differences between England and Wales or across county boundaries are nothing new for us to deal with: consider the smoking ban or Sunday opening hours for public houses. The latter was certainly of interest in Flintshire—you saw buses travelling between England and Wales at certain times of the year. Communication is key to ensure that we have an effective system for the development of bye-laws and I would be keen to understand that issue better through the Member’s contributions in committee.

Joyce Watson: I welcome the introduction of the Local Government Byelaws (Wales) Bill. It is a good opportunity for us to demonstrate that we are willing to give more power back to the locality, where it clearly belongs. In my experience as a former county councillor, bye-laws can be a useful tool for responding to local concerns and circumstances. I pick up on the point made by Peter Black in saying that it is time that we made modern bye-laws for a modern community. I also welcome that it is not prescriptive. It gives local decision-making back to communities in most cases, and I accept the retention therein. It simplifies the process and gives local people and their representatives the first and last say on introducing local laws. That has to be commended and I am sure that everybody here can support that. However, in the interests of democratic accountability, what provision will be made for bye-laws made by private companies? I look forward to scrutinising the Bill in committee and I encourage organisations and individuals to make representations.

Carl Sargeant: The Member raises some important points. This is about devolving the processes to local government, in terms of the decision-making processes that it has. There are several procedures within this and we should not lose sight of transparency in delivering this. One of the key components in developing a bye-law is consultation, so that local people have the chance to inform the local authority as to whether or not they support the bye-law that is being considered. Most Assembly Members will have dealt with complaints from constituents in relation to anti-social behaviour or nuisances. The power contained in section 235 of the Local Government Act 1972 is one of the powers that we will seek for local authorities in order to make bye-laws for the good rule and government and prevention of nuisances in their areas. Therefore, for example, the climbing of bridges and skateboarding in areas that are not conducive to skateboarding, which Mike Hedges mentioned, could be considered, through a consultation of the local authority with residents affected by this process.

Antoinette Sandbach: Minister, I want to raise three matters of concern. First, while I understand that it may be efficient and effective to impose fines, for many people £75 can be the amount of money that they have to live on and pay their bills out of in a week. Therefore, by taking away the scrutiny of a magistrates’ court you are, in effect, depriving them of the ability to challenge that process. I wonder, therefore, whether there will be an appeals process. Magistrates’ courts provide a way in which people can challenge fines that have been issued wrongly—one only has to think of the amount of challenges to parking fines, for which there is an appeals procedure.   

I am glad to see that there will be scrutiny by this Assembly of some of the measures, as I would be concerned if that safeguard was not in place. Bearing in mind the announcement made today by the Minister for Environment and Sustainable Development about the single environment body, can you clarify why powers have been ascribed to the Countryside Council for Wales? The Minister for environment seemed to indicate in his statement that implementation is due on 1 April, and, therefore, this Bill is likely to change. Therefore, are you proposing that the new single environment body will have the power to make bye-laws and fine people? If so, there has been no consultation on that. As I understood matters from the Minister for environment’s statement today, there is supposed to be public consultation on the powers and role of that single environment body, so that is a concern.

 

Carl Sargeant: I thank the Member for her contribution. We do not pick a Bill out of thin air; this has been developed through a consultation process—countless numbers of people were asked to respond. For the area that the Member represents, we had responses from the local authorities in Wrexham, Flintshire, Denbighshire and Conwy, which were all broadly in support of this Bill. Therefore, I hope that the Member could respond in a similar way through the process of scrutiny. It is right and proper that this Assembly should scrutinise this Bill as well as Measures that have been scrutinised in the past.  

In terms of the question regarding the single authority, most of the bye-laws will be made by local authorities and community councils. There are two other elements that are currently in the Bill, and I would not want to pre-empt, of course, the consultation process that the Minister for environment is undertaking on a single agency. The ones that are currently in place relate to the national park authorities, and two of the bye-laws remain subject to confirmation by Welsh Ministers. So, despite potential changes, should that be the outcome of the Minister’s consultation process, the only ones related to national park authorities within that grouping are to do with the protection of nature reserves and the facilities in or near national parks, lakes or national park control of boats and so on. I do not see that as a problem currently, but I would welcome the Member, through the scrutiny process, seeking further clarification on the processes and on whether the effects of the new potential merger, depending on the consultation process, might have an effect on the outcome of the Bill as currently written. However, that is something that I will consider through the process.


Diwygio’r PAC
CAP Reform

Y Cofnod

The Deputy Presiding Officer: I have selected amendments 1, 2 and 3 in the name of William Graham. Amendment 2 has been withdrawn.

Y Cofnod

Cynnig NDM4865 Jane Hutt

Motion NDM4865 Jane Hutt

Cynnig bod Cynulliad Cenedlaethol Cymru yn nodi bod cael y fargen orau i Gymru yn flaenoriaeth bwysig i Lywodraeth Cymru wrth ddiwygio’r PAC.

To propose that the National Assembly for Wales notes that securing the best deal for Wales from CAP Reform is a key priority for the Welsh Government.

Y Cofnod

The Deputy Minister for Agriculture, Food, Fisheries and European Programmes (Alun Davies): I move the motion.

Today’s debate provides an opportunity for the Welsh Government to set out its initial views on some of the key issues for Wales arising from proposals for the reform of the common agricultural policy from 2014. Most importantly, it is an opportunity for the Government to listen to Members. I will say at the outset of this debate that the Government will support both the Conservative amendments to the motion, amendments 1 and 3, and I thank William Graham for agreeing to withdraw amendment 2.

Members will be aware that the European Commission published draft legislation for further reform of CAP on 12 October. The reform package relates to both pillars of CAP, that is, both direct payments to farmers under pillar 1 and the rural development aspects under pillar 2. Direct payments to farmers are worth some £260 million a year to Wales and are fully funded by the Commission. Under the current Wales rural development plan, some £100 million is distributed annually, the majority of which is Welsh Government funding, primarily to farming families. Taken together, these sums represent a significant level of funding for our rural communities.

I am also pleased to record that the Welsh Government will release 88 per cent of the single payment scheme from 1 December. This represents some £214 million, which will be released on the first available date. By Christmas, 90 per cent will have been released. That is a tremendous achievement by my officials, and I thank them for that. It maintains the reputation rightly gained by the Welsh Government in securing a high level of release at the earliest possible opportunity allowed for under EU rules.

It is clear to the Welsh Government, therefore, that it is vital that we are able to achieve an outcome to the CAP reform process that meets the needs of Wales, the needs of farming and the needs of our rural communities. As we discuss these proposals today, it is extremely important that we bear in mind that this is just the start of a process. It is likely that final decisions on the direction and detail for the CAP will not be reached until the early months of 2013. There is a long and complex negotiation process ahead of us.

I want to make it absolutely clear that I will not make any definitive statements on the specifics of proposals, nor take any inflexible positions on how they will affect Wales. That is for the simple reason that what we are seeing today is not necessarily the position that we will reach at the endgame for final decisions.

I want to listen to what Members have to say and, subsequent to this afternoon’s debate, to listen to what people across the whole of Wales have to say. It is important that this conversation is a real conversation that starts and is led by Government, but is not simply dominated by Government, and that the Government does not start this process by setting out where it wants the process to end.

Furthermore, understanding the detail under the CAP is absolutely vital. We already have a series of draft regulations from the Commission and bulky supporting analysis. Critically, the Commission has yet to release the drafts of the important implementing regulations. I now understand that they will be released in late spring 2012. It is also the case that the future budget for the European union between 2014 and 2020, the multi-annual financial framework, will have a clear influence on CAP reform.

It is a matter of public record that the Welsh Government does not share the UK Government’s view about the need for an overall reduction and a significant cut in CAP payments. I would not want that to detract from the main purposes of today’s debate, but it is important that it is recognised at the outset.

For the Welsh Government, ensuring that the Welsh voice is heard is key if we are to influence the outcome of the future direction of the CAP. I am committed to ensuring that that happens. I attended the EU’s agriculture council meetings in September, October and November and I will attend one again next month in December, all as part of the UK ministerial negotiating team. I can assure Members that the Welsh Government’s initial positions and perspectives on CAP reform are well understood. As part of the UK team, we met Commissioner Cioloş earlier this month. I led the discussion on the transitional arrangements and the greening aspects of the direct payments under pillar 1.

5.30 p.m.

I have also met with Welsh MEPs and will meet them again next month in Strasbourg, where I will also have discussions with some of the key players in the European Parliament. I will remind players that the European Parliament has key influence in shaping the final CAP packages under the co-decision procedure, provided for by the Lisbon treaty. I fully intend keeping up this level of e-engagement to ensure that we get the best deal for Wales. To get the maximum benefit, we need the voice of Wales to be clear and cohesive. As well as at the UK and EU levels, I will continue to ensure that key stakeholders across Wales—farming and other countryside interests—have every opportunity to help inform the Welsh Government’s approach as the CAP debate unfolds over the next year or so. I want to lead, stimulate and inform the debate.

As I have already outlined, we will be leading a conversation on CAP reform. I want to create an opportunity for people in Wales to have a debate on where we go from here and I will be issuing a short consultation paper on the CAP in December, which I hope will inform and stimulate the debate. It will pose a series of questions, designed to draw people’s thoughts on how we can make a real difference to the land-based industries and rural communities. I will also be asking people who are not directly involved in agriculture, but who have a thorough knowledge of farming, the environment and food, to set out their thoughts on how Wales should be taking the process forward and what Wales will be seeking from the CAP and for what purposes and outcomes. We will publish further documents in the new year on these matters. Thirdly, I will ask the farmers unions to consider a range of actions—not confined to the common agricultural policy—that will support progress towards achieving a profitable and prosperous industry. I have already had initial meetings with the unions about this and, if they accept the task, I will ask them to complete the work before the next Royal Welsh Show in July. Finally, we will be hosting a farming seminar where the key interests can have serious joint discussions about both pillars of CAP reform.

In conclusion, this process must deliver for Wales. It is a priority for the Welsh Government. I will continue to keep Members fully informed as the reform process progresses. I look forward to hearing the views of Members during this afternoon’s debate and to hearing the views of people across Wales over the coming weeks and months.

Y Cofnod

Gwelliant 1 William Graham

Amendment 1 William Graham

Rhoi pwynt newydd ar ddiwedd y cynnig:

Insert new point at end of motion:

Yn cydnabod ei bod yn hanfodol diogelu dyfodol ffermydd teulu yng Nghymru yn ystod trafodaethau am ddiwygio’r PAC.

Recognises that it is vital to secure the future of Welsh family farms during CAP reform negotiations.

Gwelliant 3 William Graham

Amendment 3 William Graham

Rhoi pwynt newydd ar ddiwedd y cynnig:

Insert new point at end of motion:

Yn nodi’r effaith anghymesur a gaiff diwygio’r PAC ar systemau fferm gwahanol ac yn cydnabod bod angen trefniadau trosiannol priodol.

Notes the disproportionate impact CAP Reform will have on different farm systems and recognises the need for appropriate transitional arrangements.

Y Cofnod

Antoinette Sandbach: I move amendments 1 and 3 in the name of William Graham.

I welcome the debate. I also welcome and am sure that the 88 per cent of farmers who will receive their single farm payment in December will be happy that that will come at the appropriate time. I urge you not to forget the 12 per cent who will not get it in time. I know, particularly in my area, in Conwy last year, there were particular problems that proved hard to resolve. In fact, they did not get paid until June, so I would be delighted if those problems are not experienced again.

It is vital that we should get our negotiations on the CAP right. While I always like the way in which you misstate the UK Government’s position, you will be aware that Jim Paice said recently that there are some stories about that we want to see the end of direct payments, as if by tomorrow. That is complete nonsense and an absurd proposition. Farming could not survive without direct payments, but we need to be more ambitious in the future, and I hope that when we publish our proposals, we will be suggesting a long transition from the current CAP system.

I am delighted that you will be hearing a variety of views. The CAP task and finish group, which is being headed up by Vaughan Gething, has heard a variety of views that have been raised with us. There are concerns about Glastir and how the current proposals are going to affect Glastir, particularly the greening in pillar 1. Amendment 2 was withdrawn because it did not add to the motion as it currently stands. You will be aware that there are real concerns about greening, in particular, how set-aside will operate in the 7 per cent ecological focus areas. There is concern about that and, furthermore, there are real concerns about the permanent pasture provisions. Minister, you will be aware that there are many farmers in Wales—85 per cent of Wales is designated as permanent pasture—and the way that that is addressed in the regulations is of great concern to farmers in Wales.

Vital in informing your views, and also in enabling the unions and all farmers across Wales to understand the implications of these proposals, is the modelling that is undertaken by your Government. I am aware that there has been some modelling that indicates that there may be adverse consequences for the intensive beef and dairy sector, but it is vital that more modelling is carried out and that that information is put into the public domain as quickly as possible. We need to make informed decisions and our farmers can enter into the kind of dialogue that you are describing only if they have real, factually based information on which they can make their decisions and their representations.

In respect of the aim of simplification in the regulations, I would hope that you would welcome that and support it. Farmers have consistently said over the years that they struggle with a burden of red tape. For example, in Wales we sometimes gold-plate regulation; animal movements, for example, can be reported within seven days in Europe, but in Wales, we are required to report within three. The aims of some of the proposals as they have emerged are to be welcomed if they result in real change. There are concerns about the greening of pillar 1, and how that is going to operate in relation to pillar 2, Glastir and the agri-environment schemes. I know that you will have had representations, as we have on the CAP task and finish group, in relation to the concerns of farmers unions as to how that will operate in practice. As you have indicated in your statement, there are real concerns; the devil is in the detail and the implementing regulations have not yet been published. We are aware that this is an ongoing process, particularly in terms of the co-decision making that will be taking place in the European Parliament.

The Deputy Presiding Officer: Order. Please conclude now.

Antoinette Sandbach: I welcome the fact that you will not be taking an inflexible stance on any matters.

Y Cofnod

Llyr Huws Gruffydd: Diolch i’r Llywodraeth am y cyfle i gychwyn y drafodaeth hon ar lefel genedlaethol, o safbwynt y Llywodraeth. Croesawaf yn fawr y datganiad y bydd ymgynghoriad yn dechrau o ddifrif ym mis Rhagfyr. Fel rhywun sy’n aelod o’r grŵp gorchwyl sy’n edrych ar CAP o dan y Pwyllgor Amgylchedd a Chynaliadwyedd, byddaf yn edrych i gyfrannu rhai safbwyntiau yn ymarferol iawn drwy’r sianeli ffurfiol hynny.

Llyr Huws Gruffydd: I thank the Government for the opportunity to start this debate at a national level, from the point of view of the Government. I very much welcome the statement that a consultation will commence in earnest in December. As a member of the task and finish group looking at CAP under the Environment and Sustainability Committee, I will look to contribute points of view from a practical perspective through those formal channels.

Yr ydym yn cefnogi hefyd bob ymdrech i sefydlu ac i sicrhau’r ddêl orau i Gymru o’r polisi amaethyddol cyffredin. Mae’n allweddol, fel mae’r Dirprwy Weinidog wedi dweud, fod llais Cymru yn cael ei glywed, a bod barn Cymru yn cael ei hadlewyrchu yn y safbwyntiau a fydd yn cael eu cyflwyno gan Weinidogion San Steffan. Mae’n bwysig eu bod yn barod i gydnabod bod safbwyntiau gwahanol o fewn y Deyrnas Unedig, ond mae’n bwysig hefyd, wrth siarad ar ein rhan, fod y safbwyntiau hynny’n cael eu cynrychioli’n ystyrlon. Yr wyf yn siŵr y bydd y Dirprwy Weinidog yn ymwybodol, fel y mae wedi dweud, o bwysigrwydd cydweithio gyda’r gwledydd datganoledig eraill o fewn y Deyrnas Unedig, ond hefyd gwledydd a rhanbarthau eraill o fewn yr Undeb Ewropeaidd a gyda chyd-benderfyniad yn digwydd, wrth gwrs, yn amlwg mae rôl allweddol i’n Haelodau Seneddol Ewropeaidd. Felly, bydd adeiladu clymbleidiau o’r fath yn gwbl allweddol wrth i’r trafodaethau fynd yn eu blaen. Yr ydym yn hapus iawn i gefnogi’r gwelliannau, yn enwedig y cyfeiriad at fudd ffermydd teuluol, gan danlinellu, wrth gwrs, bwysigrwydd taliadau uniongyrchol i 80 y cant o’r rheiny i fod yn hyfyw fel busnesau.

We also support all efforts to ensure the best possible deal for Wales from the common agricultural policy. It is crucial, as the Deputy Minister has said, that the voice of Wales is heard and that the views of Wales are reflected in the stance presented by Westminster Ministers. It is important that they are willing to accept that there are differing views within the United Kingdom, but it is also important that, in speaking on our behalf, those views are given due consideration. I am sure that the Deputy Minister will be aware, as he has stated, of the importance of collaborating with the other devolved nations within the United Kingdom, but also other nations and regions within the European Union and with co-decision happening, of course, there is clearly a crucial role for our Members of the European Parliament too. Therefore, building coalitions of that sort will be crucial as the negotiations progress. We are very happy to support the amendments, particularly the reference to benefits for family farms, which of course underlines the importance of direct payments to 80 per cent of them, if they are to be viable as businesses.

Wrth edrych ar y cynigion fel y maent yn sefyll, mae rhai’n cynnig cyfleoedd i Gymru, mae eraill yn cynnig heriau difrifol a all fod â goblygiadau niweidiol iawn. Mae’n anodd gwneud cyfiawnder â’r holl bwyntiau sydd angen eu rhestru o fewn ychydig funudau. Byddwn yn cefnogi’r nod o sicrhau bod ffermwyr yn amaethu mewn modd cynaliadwy sy’n cynnig rheolaeth ofalus o adnoddau naturiol ac yn helpu i leihau’r ôl-troed carbon.

In looking at the proposals as they currently stand, some offer opportunities for Wales and others provide serious challenges that could have very detrimental impacts. It is difficult to do justice to all the points that need to be listed in just a few minutes. We will be supporting the aim of ensuring that farmers farm in a sustainable way that provides careful management of natural resources and helps to reduce the carbon footprint.

Mae’r mesurau gwyrddio wedi bod yn bwnc trafod yn barod. Yr ydym am weld y mesurau hynny’n aros o fewn piler 2, nid o fewn piler 1. Mae consýrn arbennig—ac yr ydym eisoes wedi clywed rhai ohonynt—am rai o’r mesurau penodol sy’n cael eu rhestru. Byddem yn dadlau efallai fod cwestiwn am werth amgylcheddol gwirioneddol rhai o’r mesurau hynny. Wrth edrych ar dyfu cnydau, er enghraifft, bydd yn lleihau nifer y cnydau a fydd yn cael eu tyfu yng Nghymru, er bod bwriad gwahanol mewn rhannau eraill o Ewrop. Bydd hynny’n lleihau amrywiaeth cynefinoedd ac felly’n cael effaith y byddem yn dadlau nad yw’n effaith y byddai’r Comisiwn Ewropeaidd eisiau ei gweld o safbwynt amgylcheddol.

The greening measures have been an issue of debate already. We want to see those measures remaining within pillar 2, rather than being within pillar 1. There is particular concern—we have heard about some of them already—about some of the specific measures that are listed. I would argue that there might be a question about the real environmental value of some of those measures. In looking at the growing of crops, for example, it will reduce the number of crops grown in Wales, although there is a different intention in other parts of Europe. That will reduce the variety of habitats and will therefore have an impact, I would argue, that would not be the environmental impact that the European Commission wanted to see.

Dyma hefyd y math o bethau y mae ein rhaglenni amaeth-amgylchedd wedi bod yn ei hyrwyddo. Felly, man lleiaf, mae angen ystod ehangach o opsiynau gwyrddio o fewn yr hyn a gynigir, ond byddem hefyd yn cyd-fynd â’r safbwynt sydd wedi’i fynegi cyn heddiw fod angen gweld sut gall Glastir gyflawni gofynion gwyrddio ac adeiladu ar a chydnabod record Cymru o safbwynt rhaglenni amaeth-amgylchedd.

This is the kind of thing that our agri-environment schemes have been promoting. Therefore, as a minimum, we would need a wider range of greening options within the proposals, but I would also agree with the view that has been expressed before today that we need to see how Glastir can achieve the objectives of the greening agenda and build on and recognise Wales’s record in terms of agri-environment schemes.

O safbwynt y taliadau sengl, tybiaf y bydd consensws, wrth symud o daliadau hanesyddol, fod angen symudiad mwy graddol, a mwy o hyblygrwydd i Gymru o safbwynt penderfynu ar gyflymder y symudiad hwnnw. Mae consýrn ynglŷn â chreu hawliau newydd gyda 2014 fel y flwyddyn gyfeirio, gan fod hynny eisoes yn mynd i gael dylanwad ar bris tir a chwyddo taliadau rhent, gan greu ansefydlogrwydd yn y diwydiant, yn enwedig o safbwynt tenantiaid. Byddem yn ategu’r sylwadau ynglŷn â’r angen i fodelu. Mae hynny’n bwysig er mwyn sicrhau ein bod yn gwbl ymwybodol o’r oblygiadau llawn i’r diwydiant yng Nghymru.

In terms of the single payment, I presume that there will be a consensus that, in moving from historic payments, we need a more gradual transition and more flexibility for Wales in taking decisions on the swiftness of that transition. There is concern about creating new entitlements with 2014 as the reference year, which is already going to have an impact on land prices and inflate rent payments, creating instability in the industry, especially from the point of view of tenants. I would endorse the comments on the need for modelling. That is important in order to ensure that we are entirely aware of the full implications for the industry in Wales.

Mae’r egwyddor o gefnogi ffermwyr ifanc yn cael ei chroesawu, wrth gwrs, er ein bod yn cydnabod bod efallai angen mwy o hyblygrwydd yn y diffiniad hwnnw. Mae consýrn ynghylch cynllun ffermwyr bach, ac ynghylch pa mor fach yw 'bach’, a goblygiadau gweld dylifiad aruthrol o hawlwyr newydd yn dod i mewn i’r system, gyda goblygiadau cyllidebol a goblygiadau i adnoddau’r Llywodraeth i weinyddu’r taliadau hynny.

The principle of supporting young farmers is to be welcomed, of course, although we do recognise that we may need a little more flexibility in that definition. There is concern about the small farmers scheme and how small is 'small’, and the implications of seeing a huge number of new claimants coming into the system, and the funding implications of that and the implications for Government resources in administering the payments.

Un o’r ystyriaethau canolog, yn ôl datganiadau’r Comisiwn Ewropeaidd, yw’r angen i sicrhau mwy o symlrwydd o fewn CAP. Fodd bynnag, mae’r cynigion, fel y maent yn sefyll, yn mynd i’r cyfeiriad arall, fe ofnaf. Yr wyf yn gwybod y bydd y Dirprwy Weinidog yn mynd ati i sicrhau y bydd y polisi arfaethedig yn cael ei ddiwygio gyda hynny mewn golwg.

One of the central considerations, according to the European Commission’s statements, is the need to ensure increased simplicity within CAP. However, the proposals, as they currently stand, seem to be moving in the other direction. I know that the Deputy Minister will endeavour to ensure that the proposed policy is amended with that in mind.

Croesawaf y chwe thema o flaenoriaeth o safbwynt datblygu gwledig. Mae cyfle fan hyn inni ddatblygu sector creadigol ac arloesol, a thrwy hynny sector mwy cystadleuol a hyfyw. Croesawaf hefyd y pwyslais ar gryfhau’r gadwyn fwyd, sydd, yn ei ystyr ehangach, yn sector sy’n cyflogi 230,000, sef tua 18 y cant o’r holl weithlu.

I welcome the six priority themes in terms of rural development. There is an opportunity here for us to develop a creative and innovative sector and, through that, a more competitive and viable sector. I also welcome the emphasis on strengthening the food chain, which, in its broadest sense, employs 230,000, which is about 18 per cent of the workforce.

Y Cofnod

The Deputy Presiding Officer: Order. Please conclude now.

Y Cofnod

Llyr Huws Gruffydd: Bydd sicrhau’r ddêl orau i Gymru o ddiwygio’r CAP yn un o heriau pwysicaf Llywodraeth Cymru dros y blynyddoedd nesaf. Croesawaf y ffaith ei fod yn flaenoriaeth allweddol i’r Llywodraeth, ond bydd hefyd yn ffon fesur bwysig o ran ymrwymiad y Llywodraeth i’r diwydiant amaeth.

Llyr Huws Gruffydd: Ensuring the best deal for Wales in reforming CAP will be one of the greatest challenges for the Welsh Government in the next few years. I welcome the fact that it is a key priority for the Government, but it will also be an important yardstick of the Government’s commitment to the agriculture industry.

Y Cofnod

Vaughan Gething: I am pleased to speak in this debate, given my background now as the chair of the cross-party group on CAP reform, which is tasked with looking at how these proposals potentially impact on the farming industry in Wales, how we can try to maximise our own influence, and at what the Welsh Government will be doing and the recommendations that it will be making.

What has been interesting about the work that the cross-party group has done already is the fairly substantial consensus expressed by people across the farming industry and the campaign bodies and NGOs involved. That consensus is about the level of threat to Wales and its farming industry and the wider countryside and rural economy, and how that threat is seen not just as something that affects Wales and its position within the UK, but as a threat across many different member states and regions across the European Union, with which we may have common causes. Underlying all of this is the reality that the CAP represents a significant amount of public funding from the taxpayer for the farming industry and the rural economy. It is therefore about how we continue to ensure that we get a good deal for Wales—one that maintains public confidence and public support in providing that additional public funding.

The information that we have had so far has involved talking to the European Commission and our representatives in the European Parliament. As other speakers have said, this is an area of co-decision making, where the views of the Parliament will be even more significant than ever in the past in plotting a path forward. It was especially interesting to hear the views of some farmers unions at the Royal Welsh winter fair. I have to say that, when I was elected, I did not expect that I would be chairing a CAP reform group in Builth Wells in November.

5.45 p.m.

Issues raised regarding the flexibility of moving to an area-based system of payment have been interesting. One obvious theme is that an early jump to this system could cause significant and hugely detrimental problems for profitable areas of our industry in Wales. Pretty much everyone in Wales has agreed on that. I do not think that we will be the only part of Europe that would find that to be a significant disadvantage if the current proposals went ahead. I say 'current proposals’, because, again, this is a long, drawn-out negotiation process. This is not something that we will decide, here, today and this is not something that will be decided tomorrow in Europe. There will be a long period of time, over which these proposals will move. Much of our job is not only how we find proposals that we can all sign up to, but how we can, as Team Wales, approach that within Europe to find other partners to work with us to try to deliver a set of proposals that our industry can live with. In that sense, we may find other people who will support us on the point about agri-environment schemes and greening. Agri-environment schemes in Wales have significant requirements that do not exist in the rest of Europe. With regard to looking at what the Commission is trying to achieve, it does not appear, from the evidence that we have had, that it is looking to have such a low level that people who have already made significant environmental gains should be punished.

   

Some of the other big themes that arose were this conflict between complexity and simplicity—the Commission said that it wanted to introduce simplicity—and the proposals as they stand, and how you can provide a system that is fair, without it being, in many respects, complex, given the variety of farming land that we have in Wales, let alone across the whole of Europe. That in itself is a significant challenge.

One thing that we also need to think about—it is one of the comments made by the Deputy Minister, and the NFU made it at the evidence session on Monday—is how we eventually move to a position where the farming industry in Wales reaches a level of profitability, and where it is not quite as reliant on the significant funding available from the CAP. We should try to see this from a point of where we move towards that position. We know that, in Europe, there are other regions that have a different structure to their farming industry. Something that would work for them would certainly not work for us. So, let us not underestimate the challenge, and recognise that much of the clarity that we seek will not be provided for a significant period of time. Our view, and our work, in trying to influence our partners and colleagues across Europe—the task and finish group will do its part within that—is certainly not going to be completed by the end of this debate, but we look forward to playing a constructive role. I look forward to Team Wales having a unified position. We will have to do our best within this Chamber, and with other Chambers across Europe, to get a good deal for our farmers.

William Powell: I welcome this debate today. Indeed, some colleagues around the Chamber have already made some of the points that I wished to make. Like several other Members, I had the pleasure of attending the Royal Welsh winter fair at Llanelwedd yesterday. The CAP task and finish group had a busy morning. We took evidence from NFU Cymru, from the FUW, from the Country Land and Business Association, and indeed, our host was YFC Cymru—we met in its pavilion; that was an appreciated gesture.

The truth about CAP is stark. The Welsh agriculture industry, as things currently stand, would not be able to survive without it. That is why the motion before us today is so important, and why I urge you all to support it. In recent years, Welsh farmers have endured an increasing series of challenges. We have seen BSE, followed by foot and mouth disease—twice—and then, for years, the shadow of bluetongue restrictions left the industry reeling. Indeed, less resilient industries would have collapsed under all that pressure. As we all know well enough, innovative and successful agri-environment schemes such as Tir Cymen and Tir Gofal have been followed by the slow and rather painful birth of Glastir, notwithstanding the recent change in midwife.

Not surprisingly, the details contained in the latest batch of CAP reform proposals from Commissioner Cioloş lack some clarity. The Deputy Minister has made it clear how that is the case now, because we are still early in the process, so it is difficult to comment in detail on what these proposals will mean for farmers and growers across the length and breadth of Wales. However, what we can say is that intensive livestock farms, be they beef or dairy, appear to be among those that will suffer problems. We welcome the Deputy Minister’s readiness to consider targeting support in that direction. It is essential that we continue working closely with the European Commission and, indeed, the UK Government and the other devolved administrations, to secure a fair deal for farmers across the country. Although they express disappointment at the deputy ministerial appointment for agriculture, there was recognition yesterday from the farmers unions for the energetic way in which the Deputy Minister has been conducting his business.

To turn to the Conservative amendments, we are happy to support amendments 1 and 3, tabled in the name of William Graham. I think that we can all agree that the main function of the CAP is to safeguard the future of farming and food production across Europe. We should not forget that the CAP was first introduced by people who lived through the devastation of world war two, and who still remembered what it was like to be hungry. That is important. Food security remains a key objective of the CAP, as, indeed, does a viable farming industry in Wales. In time, there is scope to harness the CAP, as has been said, as a way to foster greater profitability in the industry for future generations. Allied to this, we particularly welcome the new entrants’ scheme under pillar 1 to bring people in their early and, as Llyr Huws Gruffydd has said, middle years, into the industry. The average age of farmers in Wales is rising at an alarming rate, and this represents a genuine threat to the future sustainability of the industry. The Welsh Liberal Democrats are pleased to see that amendment 2, regarding the greening proposals under pillar 1, has been withdrawn. While we support a more refined approach to genuine greening, not mere greenwash, that amendment was far too crude an instrument, and we welcome its removal.

However, we will be supporting amendment 3 regarding transitional arrangements. We join the farmers unions, CLA and YFC Cymru in supporting the call for a transition period of at least seven years. Such reform has to be a process, not an event, and that is vital to recognise. By supporting this motion, and amendments 1 and 3, we are demonstrating our commitment to working for a strong and sustainable CAP. I urge you to support the motion.

Rebecca Evans: As another member of the Assembly’s CAP task and finish group, I also welcome today’s debate. The task and finish group has received a great deal of interest and engagement from across the farming and environmental sectors and beyond, and our early discussions have proved useful and informative. Several key areas of concern have emerged; I will highlight a couple of those today, as well as one or two smaller matters that I do not want to see getting lost in the discussions. As others have alluded to, in the evidence that the group has taken, there has been almost universal support for the transition period for the move towards area-based payments to be lengthened and for member states to be given the flexibility to decide the rate of change. The Deputy Minister’s suggestion that that transition period should be extended to seven years has been well received, and I would encourage him to continue to press for this in his discussions at the UK and European levels.

While we have heard diverging views on the principle of greening pillar 1 payments, there is significant agreement that the regulations as they stand need to be amended. While organisations representing the interests of farmers are generally opposed to any greening of pillar 1, those representing environmental interests believe that greening is essential in assisting Wales to meet its legal obligation to halt the loss of biodiversity by 2020. Nonetheless, they also have serious concerns about the proposals as they currently stand. For example, the RSPB has said that the current greening proposals will deliver very little additional benefit in environmental terms, when considered within the Welsh context. The definition of 'permanent pastures’, as it now stands, may protect some grassland of very little environmental benefit, including intensively managed, frequently seeded grasslands, while not protecting more important ones, such as semi-natural pastures that are rich in biodiversity and provide a range of ecosystem benefits, such as carbon storage and flood protection. In addition, there is deep concern that setting the reference period at 2014 may set an incentive for some farmers to plough up pastures before the new programming period commences. I ask the Deputy Minister to consider how this could be avoided.

The crop diversification measure will have little impact in Wales due to the limited nature of the arable sector here. We need to make CAP work for farmers and the environment, and the two do not have to be mutually exclusive. There seems to be some broad support across the board for the Deputy Minister’s suggestion that a menu of greening options should be offered. I ask the Deputy Minister to pursue this option, but he should ensure that every option on the menu should be meaningful and challenging, driving forward improvements rather than maintaining the status quo.

I would like to say something about the European partnership for innovation for agricultural productivity and the prize for innovative, local co-operation in rural areas. We really need more detail on both of these proposals. Unfortunately, when I raised this with the European Commission during its evidence session, it was unable to supply that detail, although it has promised to follow it up in written evidence. The key will be whether the partnership proposal has the ability to move the industry forward in Wales and entrench profitability and sustainability. Developing links and expertise could strengthen the industry, and the stimulation of activity within the sector can stimulate the creation of wealth more widely. The prize for innovation sounds as if it has potential, but there are already issues emerging. I understand that it is for certain organisations for certain activities and has to be between two member states, for example.

I ask the Deputy Minister to join me in recognising the contribution that these initiatives could make, and in recognising that we really need to make these initiatives work for Wales. At the same time, there will be a need to co-ordinate the range of networks and partnerships already in existence to ensure that these innovations add value. At this time of economic constraint, it is more important than ever that CAP delivers value for public money and is seen to be doing so. For CAP payments to be legitimate in the eyes of taxpayers, they must be clearly and demonstrably linked to the provision of public goods and services. Evidence that the group has heard has questioned the use of public funds in the proposals pertaining to risk management in the rural development regulation. This measure would support farmers to cover crop insurance premiums, something that is arguably the role of the business itself, and also provide an income stabilisation tool to provide financial assistance to farmers facing a severe drop in income. These issues combined provide a disincentive for farmers to address risk robustly as part of their business plans.

As others have said, we are still very much in the early stage of this process, and I look forward to a continued dialogue with the interested parties. I am confident that the Welsh Government will do everything that it can to get the best deal for Welsh farmers, the Welsh environment and rural communities more widely.

Russell George: I thank the Government for bringing this forward today. I also thank the Deputy Minister for talking about listening to Members in his opening remarks. It is vitally important for European states, as we embark on this long and protracted negotiation process over the future direction of CAP, that we, in the National Assembly, try to forge a position of consensus, as Vaughan Gething mentioned. It will be this that will strengthen the bargaining arm of the UK Government. We know of the challenges and demands on the European agricultural sector during the next decades—growth across the world will increase, shifts in population migration, financial insecurity, growing concerns over food and energy security and the impacts of climate change will, ultimately, mean that farmers will be expected to grow more food with reduced resources. It is, therefore, fundamental that joined-up policies between Governments are created so that CAP, post 2013, has the potential to provide a coherent policy framework that allows Europe to react to the imminent changes.

However, it is important for us, as politicians, not to get drawn in to the politics of CAP reform but rather focus our minds on the role of the Welsh family farmer, who has to balance the competing interests of food production with environmental protection, while trying to make a living and trying to make a business viable. Therefore, it is right that we should use the four guiding principles, as conveyed by NFU Cymru, on which future proposals should be set. These are: simplicity, meaning less bureaucracy and red tape; commonality, where farmers across the EU are treated as equally and fairly as possible; market-oriented, allowing market signals to drive production; and productivity and competitiveness, ensuring that the sectors become more competitive and productive in a sustainable way. Welsh farmers also want to be allowed to be more competitive with other European producers. That competition should be on a fair basis. There should be a level playing field, meaning that animal welfare and production standards should be as robust across the EU as they are in Britain. Farmers should receive an equitable return for their produce.

6.00 p.m.

Moving to this position will obviously take some time, and it is imperative that CAP proposals will take us in that direction. There is obvious concern among Welsh farmers that a rapid change to the basic payment model, coupled with compulsory greening and reclassification of less favoured areas, will have an adverse effect on Welsh farming, with ramifications for economy and food production.

Therefore, it is imperative that the Welsh Government works closely with the UK Government in order to progress Welsh interests and ensure that British farmers are not unduly penalised or disadvantaged by any new proposals. We must ensure that there is a consistent message coming from this place on these key issues. We want a fair allocation and a simple system that will make agriculture more market-oriented and competitive. I hope that that is the clear message coming out of this debate today.

Finally, I was really pleased to hear the Deputy Minister talk so much in his opening remarks about the importance of listening to the farming community. Thank you.

Nick Ramsay: Many of the points that I was going to make have been made. However, I am pleased that, in his opening comments, the Deputy Minister said that he is here to listen. I am also pleased that amendments 1 and 2 will be supported. It is undeniably important that CAP reform continues to be a key priority of the Welsh Government. Listening to many of the arguments that have been made in the debate this afternoon, I am hearing a degree of unanimity on the issues involved and on the importance that the Deputy Minister referred to of speaking as much as we can coherently with one voice.

I am certainly pleased that amendments 1 and 2 are being supported. With regard to the amendment that has been withdrawn—

The Deputy Presiding Officer: Order. I should clarify proceedings. Amendment 2 was withdrawn. Amendments 1 and 3 are before us.

Nick Ramsay: Yes, I am sorry. I apologise for confusing the issue, Deputy Presiding Officer. With regard to amendment 2, which has been withdrawn, the issue of greening is, nonetheless, important. I know that concerns have been conveyed to the CAP task and finish group. There is the issue of the penalties farmers face if they are unable to meet requirements. I hope that these will be addressed by the group and the Deputy Minister in his discussions. I was listening to William Powell’s comments earlier. I thought that his comment about 'greenwash’ was an interesting one. There is no doubt that, with regard to greening and setting aside areas of 85 per cent, as I think Antoinette Sandbach mentioned earlier in her contribution, there is no doubt that farmers are worried about the potential fossilisation of land that has been grass for more than five years.

Finally, on the issue of modelling, which has been mentioned by others in the debate, I know that the NFU has asked for detailed modelling in relation to the effect of the regional shifts that are implicit in the situation we are in at the moment. We need to look at whether the resource distribution can be achieved within the parameters of what we have. All of these arguments have been made. As I say, I am pleased that amendments 1 and 3 will be supported by the Government.

The Deputy Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries, Food and European Programmes (Alun Davies): I thank all Members who took part in the debate this afternoon. I am pleased to recognise the broad consensus that is clearly emerging from all parts of the Chamber. I am working closely with the United Kingdom Government and the other devolved administrations within the United Kingdom. I am also speaking and working directly with the Commission to ensure that Wales’s voice is heard and understood. That voice is all the stronger where there is consensus in this place.

Many Members have spoken about the simplification of the proposals. Amen to that. Often, simplification is not something that translates easily and many of the demands that have been made by people will, in fact, militate against simplification. I want to see that simplification. I also welcome, and we need to welcome, the potential for integration of the CAP with other European funding streams. These are all matters that will dominate the debate over the coming year.

Many Members also referred to the issues around transition. I referred to this in my statement on CAP in July. The move to area-based payments has broad agreement; it is clearly not acceptable to provide a payment regime from 2014 that is based on production and land use from the early parts of the last decade. There is clear agreement. When I discussed this matter with the Commissioner, we had a clear agreement on the destination point at 2020, where we are and where we need to be. The purpose of the discussion that we are having now is to decide how we get there. The Commissioner appeared to be flexible in terms of the discussions that we can have; there was certainly a broad recognition and welcome for the fact that the destination point was agreed and there was no dispute over where we need to be. I hope that we will be able to win sufficient flexibility for us here to determine how we reach that point.

Members have referred to modelling work that has been undertaken by my officials. The current proposals will lead to great problems for particular sectors of the industry, particularly some of the more productive farms in intensive beef and dairy production. That is something that this Government will continue to model. It is a matter we will continue to discuss and consider and I can give assurance to the Chamber that, if the modelling and the proposals demonstrate that there will be a clear impact on these sectors in 2014, we will bring forward proposals to ensure that that impact is mitigated. We will be able to do that. We do not believe that a five-year transition period is sufficient to provide the stability that our farm enterprises will need to be able to adjust their businesses during the period of transition. The 40 per cent step change in the first year is high—extremely high and too high. We need to be able to address those issues.

On greening, I agree absolutely and entirely with what Rebecca Evans said. Greening and food production are not mutually exclusive concepts. Clearly, food production is what agriculture exists to do and we need to promote and support the production of food across the whole of this country. However, it has to be done in a way that does not harm the environment and that enhances the environment. Land management has to be taken seriously and has to be a key part of the food production process. I believe that we are able to achieve that and Glastir demonstrates how that can be done. The greening proposals as they exist today are rigid and present a one-size-fits-all approach. I understand the Commission’s proposals and what it is trying to do. The direct payment under pillar 1 is the key instrument that it has to deliver policy across the whole of the union. That is clearly true and it is why it wants to introduce greening under pillar 1. For us, it is important that we have the flexibility to demonstrate that, where we have a more sophisticated device, such as Glastir, it is seen to be the way that we are able to deliver greening in Wales.

Andrew R.T. Davies: One of the things that all these schemes rely on is delivery. There is comprehensive talk about these schemes potentially being delayed by 12 months, given the negotiations in the European Union. Are you aware that this delay could come into reality?

Alun Davies: No. In terms of where we are today, we have ensured that there is sufficient flexibility built into the Glastir scheme. The announcements that I made last week, which I think have been broadly welcomed across the whole of the industry, demonstrate that we are taking Glastir forward with the intention of delivering a scheme that is CAP-proof, futureproof and able to deliver greater and more sophisticated greening than is currently being proposed under pillar 1. Therefore, we are very confident [Interruption.] You can carry on as much as you like, but we are confident that we will deliver the greening package that the Commission requires and we will do it in Wales in a way that delivers far more environmental benefits than are currently proposed under pillar 1.

In terms of where we are going in relation to other issues, I have already referred to our current position with regard to Glastir. We are confident that Glastir will ensure that the farmers who enter the scheme in the current application period will have flexibility and the necessary break clauses will be in place to give them the confidence to do that.

I understand the points that Members have made with regard to active farmers. I support the Commission’s view that we need to ensure that the CAP receipt is directed at those who derive their primary economic livelihood from farming. We do not want to penalise those farmers who, out of necessity, have developed alternative income streams, but we know that we need to support the family farm, as has already been referred to.

There are a number of elements in pillar 1, such as the top-slicing to provide support for young farmers, the small-scale farmers’ scheme and the limited coupled payments. I am still unconvinced that the sort of complexity that has been introduced under pillar 1 by some of these proposals is what we should be doing. I hope that we will have a pillar 1 that is seen to provide the economic support that we need to deliver support for the industry.

I would like to conclude my remarks by saying a few things about pillar 2. I want to see a much richer debate on pillar 2, as it provides us with far greater opportunity and some quite exciting possibilities to ensure that we have the competitiveness that Russell George spoke about and that we are able to provide the support for the supply chains that Llyr spoke about, that we are able to deliver greater support for supply chains in dairy, horticulture and other areas where we are not doing so at the moment. This is how we deliver a much strengthened rural economy. It is also my view that this is how we can deliver the economic benefits that we all agree we want to see.

It is pillar 2 that gives us the instruments and the opportunities to shape the rural economy. I hope that we will have debate on pillar 2. All too often, we simply debate pillar 1 and direct payments. I want to see a debate that is far richer than that and which looks at how CAP can shape and underpin the rural economy. We have the opportunity to do that over the next weeks and months. I hope that Members will support that and that they will take part in and lead that debate. The Welsh Government will certainly inform and lead that debate, and I look forward to coming back to the Chamber in the next few months with the results of our debate. I look forward to ensuring that there is a strong Welsh voice wherever these matters are debated and discussed and that there is a very strong Welsh consensus when we come to make decisions on these matters.

The Deputy Presiding Officer: The proposal is to agree amendment 1. Does any Member object?  I see that there is no objection. Therefore, amendment 1 is agreed in accordance with Standing Order No. 12.36.

Derbyniwyd y gwelliant.

Amendment agreed.

The Deputy Presiding Officer: Amendment 2 has been withdrawn.

The proposal is to agree amendment 3. Does any Member object? I see that there is no objection. Therefore, amendment 3 is agreed in accordance with Standing Order No. 12.36.

Derbyniwyd y gwelliant.

Amendment agreed.

Y Cofnod

Cynnig NDM4865 fel y’i diwygiwyd:

Motion NDM4865 as amended:

Cynnig bod Cynulliad Cenedlaethol Cymru yn nodi bod cael y fargen orau i Gymru yn flaenoriaeth bwysig i Lywodraeth Cymru wrth ddiwygio’r PAC.

To propose that the National Assembly for Wales notes that securing the best deal for Wales from CAP Reform is a key priority for the Welsh Government.

Yn cydnabod ei bod yn hanfodol diogelu dyfodol ffermydd teulu yng Nghymru yn ystod trafodaethau am ddiwygio’r PAC.

Recognises that it is vital to secure the future of Welsh family farms during CAP reform negotiations.

Yn nodi’r effaith anghymesur a gaiff diwygio’r PAC ar systemau fferm gwahanol ac yn cydnabod bod angen trefniadau trosiannol priodol.

Notes the disproportionate impact CAP Reform will have on different farm systems and recognises the need for appropriate transitional arrangements.

Y Cofnod

The Deputy Presiding Officer: The proposal is to agree the motion as amended. Does any Member object? I see that there is no objection. Therefore, the motion as amended is agreed in accordance with Standing Order No. 12.36.

Derbyniwyd cynnig NDM4865 fel y’i diwygiwyd.

Motion NDM4865 as amended agreed.

The Deputy Presiding Officer: That concludes today’s business.

Daeth y cyfarfod i ben am 6.13 p.m.
The meeting ended at 6.13 p.m.

Aelodau a’u Pleidiau
Members and their Parties

Andrews, Leighton (Llafur - Labour)
Antoniw, Mick (Llafur - Labour)
Asghar, Mohammad (Ceidwadwyr Cymreig - Welsh Conservatives)
Black, Peter (Democratiaid Rhyddfrydol Cymru - Welsh Liberal Democrats)
Burns, Angela (Ceidwadwyr Cymreig - Welsh Conservatives)
Butler, Rosemary (Llafur - Labour)
Chapman, Christine (Llafur - Labour)
Cuthbert, Jeff (Llafur - Labour)
Davies, Alun (Llafur - Labour)
Davies, Andrew R.T. (Ceidwadwyr Cymreig - Welsh Conservatives)
Davies, Byron (Ceidwadwyr Cymreig - Welsh Conservatives)
Davies, Jocelyn (Plaid Cymru - The Party of Wales)
Davies, Keith (Llafur - Labour)
Davies, Paul (Ceidwadwyr Cymreig - Welsh Conservatives)
Davies, Suzy (Ceidwadwyr Cymreig - Welsh Conservatives)
Drakeford, Mark (Llafur - Labour)
Elis-Thomas, Yr Arglwydd/Lord (Plaid Cymru - The Party of Wales)
Evans, Rebecca (Llafur - Labour)
Finch-Saunders, Janet (Ceidwadwyr Cymreig - Welsh Conservatives)
George, Russell (Ceidwadwyr Cymreig - Welsh Conservatives)
Gething, Vaughan (Llafur - Labour)
Graham, William (Ceidwadwyr Cymreig - Welsh Conservatives)
Gregory, Janice (Llafur - Labour)
Griffiths, John (Llafur - Labour)
Griffiths, Lesley (Llafur - Labour)
Gruffydd, Llyr Huws (Plaid Cymru - The Party of Wales)
Hart, Edwina (Llafur - Labour)
Hedges, Mike (Llafur - Labour)
Hutt, Jane (Llafur - Labour)
Isherwood, Mark (Ceidwadwyr Cymreig - Welsh Conservatives)
James, Julie (Llafur - Labour)
Jenkins, Bethan (Plaid Cymru - The Party of Wales)
Jones, Alun Ffred (Plaid Cymru - The Party of Wales)
Jones, Ann (Llafur - Labour)
Jones, Carwyn (Llafur - Labour)
Jones, Elin (Plaid Cymru - The Party of Wales)
Jones, Ieuan Wyn (Plaid Cymru - The Party of Wales)
Lewis, Huw (Llafur - Labour)
Melding, David (Ceidwadwyr Cymreig - Welsh Conservatives)
Mewies, Sandy (Llafur - Labour)
Millar, Darren (Ceidwadwyr Cymreig - Welsh Conservatives)
Morgan, Julie (Llafur - Labour)
Neagle, Lynne (Llafur - Labour)
Parrott, Eluned ((Democratiaid Rhyddfrydol Cymru - Welsh Liberal Democrats))
Powell, William (Democratiaid Rhyddfrydol Cymru - Welsh Liberal Democrats)
Price, Gwyn R. (Llafur - Labour)
Ramsay, Nick (Ceidwadwyr Cymreig - Welsh Conservatives)
Rathbone, Jenny (Llafur - Labour)
Rees, David (Llafur - Labour)
Roberts, Aled (Democratiaid Rhyddfrydol Cymru - Welsh Liberal Democrats)
Sandbach, Antoinette (Ceidwadwyr Cymreig - Welsh Conservatives)
Sargeant, Carl (Llafur - Labour)
Skates, Kenneth (Llafur - Labour)
Thomas, Gwenda (Llafur - Labour)
Thomas, Rhodri Glyn (Plaid Cymru - The Party of Wales)
Thomas, Simon (Plaid Cymru - The Party of Wales)
Watson, Joyce (Llafur - Labour)
Whittle, Lindsay (Plaid Cymru - The Party of Wales)
Williams, Kirsty (Democratiaid Rhyddfrydol Cymru - Welsh Liberal Democrats)
Wood, Leanne (Plaid Cymru - The Party of Wales)



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